Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Commentary: The battle for St Joseph; vote splitting could favour the PNM

The United National Congress (UNC) has won the St Joseph constituency in four of the five national elections from 2000 to 2010 but at the same time the People's National Movement (PNM) has retained its numerical support all through. 

And now with the announcement that Ian Alleyne will run for the party in the November 4 byelection, it is hoping it can keep the seat in UNC.

Carlos John defeated the PNM's Donna Carter in the 2000 election, which the UNC won with a clear majority. But the PNM gave the UNC a good run, getting more than 7,000 votes

  • Donna Carter   PNM        7,387 (43.1%)
  • Carlos JOHN     UNC       9,753 (56.9%)
Carlos won the seat again in 2001, but some of the votes he got the year before went to the UNC scion, Team Unity, that had set out to bring down the Panday government. 

The vote splitting did not benefit the PNM but some PNM supporters refused to vote, making the final count for the party lower than in the previous election. It was the same for the UNC; Carlos also got fewer votes but Team Unity failed to have the impact it wanted. In both elections the UNC was in government.


  • Carlos JOHN              UNC         8,824 55.6% (-01.3) 
  • Kayam Mohammed    PNM         6,793 42.8% (-00.3) 
  • Saieed Mohammed    TUN            242           (01.5)
In the 2002 election, the PNM was in government and increased its vote by a few hundred but the UNC kept the seat because supporters who went to Team Unity returned home. It was the highest vote for the UNC until then with the PNM reaching its peak at just over 8,000 votes.


  • Dr Sharon Gopaul-McNichol    PNM 8,124 46.5% (+13.2) 
  • Gerald YETMING                   UNC 9,352 53.5% (-11.5)
Five years later with the break in the UNC, internal bickering and a loose alliance with Jack Warner and Basdeo Panday as joint leaders the PNM took the seat for the first time since 2000.

However, it did so in a minority situation with Kennedy Swaratsingh benefiting from the split vote between the new Congress of the People (COP) and the UNC Alliance. COP split the votes to the detriment of the UNC. The two rivals received 9,090 votes (53.3% of the popular votes) but the PNM won with just under 8,000.

What is interesting about the figures in St Joseph is that they reflected the national voting pattern in that election in which the Manning PNM, with just over 45 per cent of the popular vote, won a strong majority of 26 of the 41 seats in the House of Representatives with the 15 others going to the UNC Alliance.


  • Dr Carson Charles          UNC  4,945 (29.0%) 
  • Gillian Lucky                  COP  4,145 (24.3%) 
  • Kennedy SWARATSINGH PNM  7,965 (46.7%)

In 2010, Kamla's strengthened UNC and the wave of support for the People's Partnership gave Herbert Volney the strongest victory for the UNC since 2000 but what is significant is that the PNM vote remained constant.


  • Kennedy Swaratsingh         PNM  7,778   41.8%   (-04.9) 
  • Herbert VOLNEY                UNC 10,835  58.2%  (+29.2)
Today in 2013 the political spotlight is again on St Joseph in a byelection caused by the resignation of Volney from the UNC and his subsequent expulsion from the seat. Volney has decided to retire and like 2007, there is a third party led by a former executive member of the UNC.

There is a similarity to 2007 but also some fundamental differences. 

Winston Dookeran formed the Congress of the People (COP) just before that general election after resigning as leader of the UNC. Jack Warner formed the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) after resigning from cabinet and from his post as chairman of the UNC. He then challenged the UNC on its own turf and won the Chaguanas West byelection as a candidate for the ILP.

Since then Jack has been picking up support for his ILP mainly from the UNC and he is hoping that this erosion of the UNC base would give him the seat. However, he might be helping the PNM, as the COP did in 2007, whether or not he is a willing accomplice.

In 2007 Dookeran and the COP genuinely thought they would win. Jack and the ILP say they have the same vision. 

But can the ILP win in this scenario? Or put another way, can the UNC lose after such a strong record over the past 12 years? 

The short answer is this: vote splitting. It is as significant as it was in 2007. If Jack takes the UNC's support without touching the PNM's then both the ILP and UNC would lose and the PNM could do what it did in 2007 - run off with victory with a minority vote.

The campaign is now starting and each party has put what a person it believes is a winning candidate.

For the PNM it is Terrence Deyalsingh who brings both education and political experience to the by-election. He has a BSc. in clinical pharmacy and a post-graduate diploma in international marketing. He has served the PNM in the Senate since November 2010.

Om Lalla for the ILP is a well educated and successful lawyer and a long time friend of Warner. However he doesn't not have a strong public profile and is new to the political stage. He was also the lawyer for Alleyne, who is now one of the challengers for the seat.

And then there is Alleyne, who has built up a very strong following through his sometimes controversial but highly popular television show, Crime Watch. He plans on taking a break from the show to campaign. 

And don't forget the independent, comedian and broadcaster Errol Fabien, who has been endorsed by the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ). And Kirk Meighoo's DNA is also putting up a candidate - Michael Lopez.

As the Local Government Election comes to a close, the political heat would be turned up once again for this epic contest. Each party has a lot riding on winning this seat. And for now, it is unwise for anyone to offer a guess about the result. However, what is clear is that the greatest threat to the UNC is the vote splitting, which could cause the political pendulum to swing in the PNM's direction.

Jai Parasram - 14 October 2013

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai