Trinidad and Tobago Elections 2015
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago goes to polls in May 2015 to elect the members to the House of Representatives.
The surface area of Trinidad and Tobago stretches to 5,128 sq. kms. The nation has a population of around 1.3 million, as per 2012 UN Report. The capital city is Port of Spain.
The present Head of State is President Anthony Carmona whohas been in office since March 18, 2013. The Government is headed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar whohas held office since May 26, 2010.
The Speaker in the House of Representatives is Wade Mark and the Deputy Speaker is Nela Khan. The President or Presiding Officer of the Senate is Raziah Ahmed who has been in office since May 24, 2010. The Vice President of the Senate is James Lambert.
The Elections in Trinidad and Tobago are conducted and supervised under the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), which is an independent and widely respected body. The EBC is headed by a Chairperson with four members, all of whom are appointed by the President upon the advice of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition for a five-year term.
Trinidad and Tobago is a unitary state whose parliamentary system of democracy is inspired by the Westminster model. The Parliament is bi-cameral and comprises the House of Representatives (Lower House) and the Senate (Upper House).
Prior to 2007, Trinidad and Tobago was divided into 36 constituencies. However, five constituencies have been added since then, bringing the total to 41. Therefore, the House of Representatives comprises 41 members who are directly elected by the people from Trinidad and Tobago for a five-year term.
The Senate comprises 31 members appointed by the President. Of these 16 are appointed upon the advice of the Prime Minister, six members on advice of the Leader of the Opposition and the President holds the prerogative of nominating nine outstanding and popular members from the community.
The President is the Head of State in a non-executive capacity and is elected for a term of five years by an electoral college that comprises members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The two islands of Trinidad and Tobago came under a common administration in 1889 and in 1898 adopted a common political system. The land was exploited for its cocoa and sugar plantations by the British and Europeans and slavery was widespread. Once slavery was officially abolished in 1834, there was a labor crisis. In order to meet the shortfall, voluntary labor was brought from India and China, many of whom stayed back.
Today, the ethnic mix comprises people of African origin, Indian, Chinese and Whites of various races. The popular religion practiced is Christianity with a majority being Roman Catholic, followed by Hinduism, Anglicans, Muslims and others.
One of the oldest political parties is the People’s National Movement (PNM), whose founding leader Dr Eric Williams became the first Chief Minister by securing a majority in 1956 elections to the Legislative Council. Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) won full independence in August 1962. The same year T&T joined the Commonwealth as an active member.
Major Elections since Independence
Just prior to independence in 1961, PNM won a majority to the House of Representatives. In 1971 general elections, the PNM continued to dominate the political space winning all 36 seats. In 1976, T&T became a Republic with the President replacing Queen Elizabeth as the Head of State.
The 80s saw a lot of economic turmoil and as a result in 1986, the PNM lost the general elections to a coalition of opposition parties led by the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). Such was the anti-incumbency against PNM that NAR won 33 of 36 seats in the House of Representatives. NAR also ended up winning 11 out of the 12 Tobago House Assembly seats.
However, NAR failed to live up to people’s expectation and by 1989 United National Congress (UNC), a new opposition party was formed with various dissidents coming together, led by Basdeo Panday. The UNC, with six seats in the House emerged as the principal opposition party in 1990. In 1990, there was a failed coup attempt and in the general elections in December 1991, the PNM led by Patrick Manning, made a comeback winning 21 seats. UNC emerged as the principle opposition party with 13 seats and NAR managed to win just two seats.
In November 1995, an early general elections were held. UNC and PNM both won 17 seats each with NAR held onto the two seats from Tobago. The UNC formed a coalition with NAR with PNM sitting out as the principal opposition party.
The December 2000 General elections saw fourpolitical parties actively contesting; UNC, PNM, NAR and the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP). In Trinidad, the contest was between UNC and PNM while in Tobago, the UNC stayed away leaving the field to be fought between PNM, NAR and PEP. The UNC won a majority winning 19 out of 36 seats, while PNM won 16 and NAR bagged one seat.
However in 2001, after UNC lost majority after four members defected and early General elections to the House of Representatives were called on December 10, 2001. Both UNC and PNM won 18 seats each, and Patrick Manning-led PNM was invited to form the government despite not receiving the maximum votes.
However, the PNM was unable to form a government resulting in a hung parliament. On October 7, early general elections were once again organized and this time the PNM managed to get a majority, securing 20 out of 36 seats.
The next General elections were held on November 5, 2007. The PNM once again secured a majority winning 26 of the 41 seats with a 45.85% vote share (five seats were added in this elections taking the total seats to 41), while UNC Alliance secured 15 seats with 29.73% votes.
The Last General Elections of 2010
The last General elections were held on May 24, 2010. The People’s Partnership Coalition won majority of 29 seats with PNM winning the remaining 12 seats. The total number of valid votes polled were 719,727 with a voter turn-out of 69.45%.
The current seat break-up of the House of Representatives is as follows: The ruling coalition comprises UNC (19 seats), Congress of the People (six seats), Tobago Organization of the People (two seats). Total: 27 seats.
The seats held by the Opposition parties are: PNM (13 seats), Independent Liberal Party (one seat). Total: 14 seats.
The Electoral Process
The Constitution allows for universal suffrage for all those who have attained 18 years of age and have resided in the electoral constituency for at least two months prior to the qualifying date.
The Commonwealth citizens who are of 18 years of age and have legally resided in T&T for a minimum period of one year and in an electoral constituency for at least two months prior to the qualifying date, are eligible to vote.
The Non-Commonwealth citizens who are of 18 years of age and have legally resided in T&T for a minimum period of five years and in an electoral constituency for at least two months prior to the qualifying date, are eligible to vote. The Non-Commonwealth citizens can only vote in the City or Borough elections in Trinidad and cannot participate in Parliamentary or Tobago House elections.
All the voters must carry their Identity Cards and voting is done through secret ballot. The candidates are elected on the basis of first-past-the-post system.
In a recent Constitutional Amendment Bill, both the Houses passed a law for holding a run-off poll in cases where the winner does gets less than 51% votes in the original poll. Furthermore, a third party is allowed to contest the run-off poll subject to the same receiving at least 25% votes in the original poll and coming within 5% of the second highest party. This reform has come under much-heated debate.
The Bill introduced two other reforms, too. One is to call back an elected but under-performing candidate three years after being elected. The other reform introduced was to allow a two-term limit for the Prime Minister to stay in office.
Main Political Parties in the Fray in 2015 General Elections
The main political parties continue to be UNC led by the present Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, PNM led by Keith Rowley, NAR led by Lennox Sankarsingh, Democratic National Alliance (coalition of NAR, DDPT and MND) led by Charles Carson, Congress of the People (COP) led by Prakash Ramadhar and Tobago Organization of the People (TOP) led by Ashworth Jack.