Political analysts: No general election before budget

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, right, and Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan at the PNM’s political meeting, in Chaguanas on March 7. – ANGELO MARCELLE

Political scientist Derek Ramsamooj does not believe the Prime Minister will call a general election before the next national budget presentation later this year.

As he sees it, there are some policies, such as the property tax, that must be fully implemented and accepted by the electorate, particularly in the strategic seats that are needed for the People’s National Movement (PNM) to return to power.

Ramsamooj believes there must also be a proper analysis of the level of preparedness within the Tobago electorate before any such decision is taken. The PNM controls the Tobago East and West seats in the House of Representatives.

“That will be one of the decision factors as to how strong the PNM has maintained its support in the Tobago electorate,” he told Sunday Newsday.

Ramsamooj was commenting on the closing portion of Rowley’s address on March 7 during a PNM political meeting at Tropical Angel Harps Pan Yard, Chaguanas, in which he announced that the party is in election mode. The next general election is constitutionally due in 2025.

Derek Ramsamooj –

Rowley, who has served as prime minister for the past eight and a half years, told supporters, “As we go forward, an election is due sometime soon. You will be advised and when you are advised you will be energised. And when you are energised you will know your interest lies with the political party that took us to Independence, took us to Republican status, took us through all of our difficulties and is responsible for all of the positives that you can point to in Trinidad and Tobago. Ladies and gentlemen, that party is the People’s National Movement.”

Saying the upcoming general election may be the most significant in TT’s history, Rowley said

PNM, in or out of government, has always put the country first.

He singled out the government’s handling of the covid19 pandemic, boasting there was no scandal in its financial support to non-essential workers.

In moving forward, Rowley said, the party will be focusing on policies and programmes.

“From here on in you will be educated from a PNM platform.”

He hinted that constitutional reform could usher in a new era of governance in TT under the PNM.

Rowley said on March 8, he received a letter from Barendra Sinanan, chairman of the national advisory committee on constitution reform, saying that the process had begun.

The eight-member committee is inviting individuals and corporate citizens to submit their recommendations. It will then be synthesised and compiled into a working document for a national constitution conference in June.

The PM said, “I, as Prime Minister, will put in my comments. My party will put in its comments and the various entities in the country. We will get a basket of comments and the PNM government and all those, including the Opposition, will get this opportunity to put in your position and your comments.”

Rowley said every comment will be treated with respect.

“Then we, as a people, will decide what we do after that. That is how a nation is developed. That is how you evolve from one stage to the next.

“After 60-odd years, you can now say it is time to have a look and let us do it in a civil way. I don’t want my point of view to dominate nor will I let yours dominate if it doesn’t make sense. Together we could discuss this constitution. I hope something useful comes out of it.”

But Ramsamooj also believes Rowley is attempting to prepare his party with respect to the

organisation and management of the delivery of government services as stated in their manifesto.

“If such a delivery is successful, then the Prime Minister is trying to align the political thinking that the undecided and first-time voter would lean towards supporting the incumbent.

“The political leader and Prime Minister must change the public conversation and improve the perception of these new and floating voters and test his political machinery before he decides to call a general election.”

He regarded Rowley as a “long-standing political strategist, who would apply this thinking so as to test the best time for his decision to call an election.”

Ramsamooj recalled under previous PNM political leaders, early election dates did not work in the party’s favour.

Observing that the PNM is in election mode, political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath believes Rowley is mindful of the fact that the party lost on the last two occasions it called an early election.

“So he is going to have to consider how far does he go?”

Referring to Rowley’s statement that the election “is due sometime soon,” Ragoonath said, “What ‘soon’ tells us is that he is now measuring where the party is, where the party needs to go and what the party needs to do and, as he is in government, what the government also needs to do.

“In other words, they have to amass their own supporters, bring them back and consolidate his support. That is what he is trying to do.”

Senior lecturer, Department of Behavioural Sciences, UWI, St Augustine, Ragoonath believes Rowley is also trying to stir feelings of nostalgia among the party’s faithful “that the PNM has brought them from Independence to where we are today.

“However, in trying to whip up that support, I think he is also recognising that many people, even PNM supporters, may feel they are not getting all they should from a government and that the PNM is with them.”

Dr Bishnu Ragoonath –

Ragoonath said Rowley’s boast that the PNM has brought the country through all of these difficult periods is meant to engender hope that support for the party “will ultimately lead to them bringing us back out of these times that we are currently seeing.”

Realistically, though, Ramsamooj said the PM “reserves the right to engage his membership to prepare for an election at any given time.

“The political leader of the PNM, who is also the Prime Minister of TT has the constitutional authority to call the general election when he perceives the momentum is in the direction of his political party.

“When you look at the events in TT, we can possibly see the intention of an economic upturn, of having extra financial resources to create perhaps further employment, notwithstanding the socio-economic challenges of the level of criminality in our society.”

He said Rowley is attempting to create a picture of better economic times within the next 12-18 months while trying simultaneously to resolve issues such as crime, poverty and inflation.