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OUR CARIBBEAN: Elections hanging over Obama visit


OUR CARIBBEAN: Elections hanging over Obama visit

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has done well in extending his originally announced one-day official visit to Jamaica to two (previously addressed in this column on March 25).

Hence, his arrival today instead of tomorrow and, seemingly, devoted to a little more time for the cultural vibes and rhythms as well as the political culture of Jamaica, before his official participation in a possible two to three hours of a “special working session” with the Heads of Government of the 15-member CARICOM.

Leaders who have felt obliged to quickly make changes to their travel arrangements to be in time for the special summit with President Obama, and his Jamaican host, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, would be Guyana’s President, Donald Ramotar, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

It’s quite a challenging political period for both the first-time Guyanese head of state and the first-time woman prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. They are respectively preoccupied  with pressing arrangements for new general  elections – expected  within weeks of each other – starting with Guyana’s on May 11 for a 65-member National Assembly.

Monday was Nomination Day for Guyana’s parliamentary elections while Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar continues to maintain secrecy in announcing E-Day for Trinidad and Tobago amid growing speculation that it’s now mere weeks away for dissolution of its 42-member parliament.

The PM’s United National Congress had secured overwhelming control of the parliament following a humiliating defeat in May 2010 for the governing People’s National Movement (PNM), under the leadership of  then Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

Following a stroke, the ailing Manning opted to retire from politics leaving his successor, Keith Rowley, to be engaged in a most challenging duel for the prize of leading a new administration in Port of Spain based on the outcome of the elections duel between the PNM and the incumbent People’s Partnernship coalition administration that’s firmly controlled by Persad-Bissessar’s United National Congress (UNC).

Interestingly, while a public opinion poll conducted for the Trinidad Express by Solution by Simulation (SBS) gave  a winning edge to the PNM for the coming elections, the party’s vice-chairman, Colm Embert, dismissed the SBS forecast as “unscientific”.

A former senior cabinet minister in PNM administrations, Embert was dismissive of the SBS’s forecast  that if the elections were called now the PNM would win by a narrow margin (31 per cent to the People’s Partnership’s 26 per cent), with undecided electors estimated at 40 per cent. Yet, as Embert pointed out, the same survey reported the Prime Minister’s “favourability” rating at an impressive 50 per cent compared with Rowley’s at 33 per cent.

Meanwhile, across in Guyana where, as in Trinidad and Tobago, the race factor has often been a challenging issue in the outcomes of parliamentary and local government elections, the incumbent PPP/Civic and its primary challenger for state power, People’s National Congress, would be locked in a straight fight for control of the executive presidency and the 65-member parliament.

The PPP/C has been on a constant winning streak for state power, ever since 1992 with the return of free and fair elections. But at the last elections in November 2011, while it once again retained the executive president position, it had to contend with a minority of one seat in the parliament, having secured 32 to the combined opposition parties 33 seats. 

This is not a scenario likely to recur, either for the incumbent or the coalition of opposition parties.

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.