Saturday 8th September, 2007

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All parties face poll challenges

Even without revelation of the date, this is set to be one of the countdown weekends to the next general election.

Addressing his party in Laventille last week, Prime Minister Patrick Manning appeared to confirm the election will be held in 2007.

Constitution watchers have, however, held out the possibility of a date in early 2008.

Campaign planners must now be counting the weekends before the absorption in the seasonal excitement of Christmas, and an early Carnival.

Elections in the first two weeks of December are not unknown in T&T. By the time Mr Manning gets around to saying when, the announcement will deliver bounce to the campaigns but hardly produce much dramatic surprise.

Meanwhile, as the ruling party has been publicly taking part in preparatory exercises, it could run the risk of the political equivalent of “overtraining” for the big event.

While waiting to see the whites of his enemies’ eyes, so to speak, Mr Manning may well create occasion for an unintentional stumble on his part.

Still, his team remains blessed with the advantages of incumbency.

Image of disarray

Assets of the PNM include not just the levers of State power and access to a bounteous treasury, but also the image of disarray that has dogged the opposition.

Other traditional PNM assets include its own image of party unity and discipline.

The validity of this image is being tested now that, to an unusual degree, the candidate selection exercises are capturing headlines.

It appears that at least half of the PNM candidates who had won parliamentary seats in October 2002 will not be contesting five years later.

Neither the voting public nor, it appears, party activists can have been expecting this. As one might-have-been re-election candidate after another walks the plank, some unpredictable effects may be realised.

In San Fernando West, constituents, including former Mayor Ian Atherly, have voiced unhappiness with the findings of an internal PNM poll, which apparently persuaded incumbent Diane Seukeran against running again.

Constituents demonstrated in the streets against the poll findings that may have depicted the MP and former business leader as newly unpopular in her city.

Mr Atherly even declared his readiness for “war” over the poll results. In mid-2006, he had been displaced as San Fernando mayor not by the judgment of his city's burghers, but by central casting in Balisier House, Port of Spain.

About the poll results that now trigger removal of Ms Seukeran, Mr Atherly, her 2002 campaign manager, pointedly said: “It looks so familiar to me.”

San Fernando resistance may thus encourage local sentiment in other areas where suspicion of political manipulation in distant, high quarters could provoke resentment.

Further election-date delays could only give more time and scope for such unwelcome eruptions.

In Woodford Square today, the Congress of the People will be encouraged to deliver a make-or-break showing of its support.

Latest UWI/ANSA McAL poll results will have heartened the COP's hopes of displacing the UNC/ Alliance as the main opposition force, and even of sustaining a potent challenge to the PNM.

The UNC/Alliance has taken note of this eye-catching emergence of the COP which, under former UNC leader Winston Dookeran, had one year ago formally declared its independence of the UNC.

UNC/Alliance advertisements yesterday claimed all the CoP “will achieve is to split the vote in constituencies where small numbers will make the difference in giving the seat to the PNM.”

With much cocoa in the sun, the UNC/Alliance will be looking for rain today.

As the countdown continues, however, challenges abound for all the parties.

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Designed by: Randall Rajkumar-Maharaj · Updated daily by: Nicholas Attai