The signs of battle were all present yesterday. The flags. The colours. The fighting spirit for one. The confidence of victors for another. And the numbers in tens of thousands–on both sides. Anyone heading eastwards on the Priority Bus Route yesterday would have gotten a "preview" of what might be involved in Monday's general election battle. Battleground PBR ranged from Aranguez Savannah in Barataria to the Eddie Hart Grounds in Tacarigua where the Opposition forces and the ruling PNM held their respective final rallies. Opposition coalition supporters rolled forth from their Central and South strongholds and other locations, taking over the north at Aranguez, birthplace of the UNC which turned 21 years just over a month ago. Ruling party supporters also flowed in a red stream from their camps in the north and south towards Tacarigua, PNM's traditional venue for election grand finales.
Yellow (at Aranguez) and red (at Tacarigua) were the order of the day and each was spread wide and thick, end to end without exception, in the respective locations. Zooming up the PBR past Aranguez at 1 pm, that location was already layered with Opposition yellow, as was the Tacarigua venue with PNM red at that time. Jamming the PBR, heading west coming from the Uriah Butler highway and points further eastwards was a steady stream of vehicles and DJ trucks en route to Aranguez with jubilant UNC and COP supporters. Heading westwards down the PBR were empty buses and maxis with PNM posters which had delivered PNMites to Tacarigua. PNM MP Keith Rowley was among a couple PNM candidates who arrived late delayed by heavy traffic.
ABOVE: PNM supporters in Aranguez yesterday. Photo: Andre Alexander
On PNM turf in Tacarigua, spirits and energy levels were high. Tents bordering the perimeter of the grounds were packed with supporters sheltering sun as the grounds swelled with people, thickly clustered. Balisier waved high. Huge flags streaming in the breeze. And everywhere–red. "They have tried to copy us in every way–from our meetings to the way we bring people together–but we are the original–we are the PNM!" party chairman Conrad Enill roared. "This is not a time for experimenting or to try something new–vote PNM!" he added. A very pregnant Princes Town candidate Anwarie Ramkisson lauded Manning. "We have the best leader, a man of integrity he has been put through the fire and come out as fine gold," she declared. PNM leader Prime Minister Patrick Manning appeared completely relaxed, unlike a man on the eve of a battle royale which could either mar his 39-year political career or give it historic furtherance.
Manning's head bopped to the musical presentations from John Thomas and Mavis John, singing lustily along with John's presentation of "God Bless Our Nation." PNM's battlecry also emanated from PNM general secretary Martin Joseph who warned, "Don't lime this time–vote and vote PNM! Remember every vote counts." Light airplanes flew high above each camp trailing airborne banners. "We love you so we take good care of you......PNM!" "Vote for Change–Kamla for Prime Minister." Up to 4pm, PNMites in red jerseys at points from Barataria, San Juan and further East were still waiting for transport, or trudging up the bus route from Tunapuna onwards, towards Tacarigua's rippling sea of red.
Opposition supporters in yellow were also walking along the bus route from Petit Bourg towards the wide yellow (and white speckled) expanse of Aranguez Savannah over which the blimp hovered.
Yellow UNC jerseys outnumbered COP T-shirts. White and yellow flags fluttered with spirit. A mellow vibe pervaded. COP's Prakash Ramadhar appeared to have "converted" as his supporters wore yellow UNC jerseys which they said they were given this week. Opposition leaders addressed the crowd from a half shell stage to the Savannah's southern centre which bore a strong resemblance to a mini version of the controversial National Academy for the Performing Arts. For the 2007 election, the UNC had held its final rally at Aranguez filling half of the Savannah then. The COP, fighting on its own then, had gathered at Woodford Square. And divided, both had lost that election to the PNM.
Yesterday both parties stood together in Aranguez, on what their members claimed is the threshold of victory for the combined Opposition.
COP leader Winston Dookeran said it was clear UNC's Kamla Persad-Bissessar would be Prime Minister. "This is the time, the time is now, we will do it...we are ready, let us do it now!" UNC chairman Jack Warner also saluted UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar as "the incoming Prime Minister of the Republic." Warner added, " I am proud to follow Kamla as my leader, and as my country's next Prime Minister....for all that Kamla has done for us, let us win this election for her." Bunches of yellow balloons were released as Persad-Bissessar took to the stage. With Warner sitting behind and nodding in agreement, Persad-Bissessar declared, "We will win....! We will rise together–we will rise!" Both camps yesterday claimed attendance numbers of 50,000-plus.
Yesterday's crowds are not necessarily hard and fast factors to go by, but from the profile offered by both rallies, the voters of general election 2010 may well be dominated by youths. PNM's youth support, which the leadership has repeatedly boasted of along the campaign trail, was loudly in evidence in Tacarigua while their older counterparts hung out in chairs under the tents bordering Eddie Hart Grounds. But over at the UNC's birthplace, the party founded by Panday was almost unrecognisable where its onetime elderly diehard "grassroots" supporters were concerned. COP elite and professional types mingled with their UNC blue collar bretheren and middle class members from both sides. Panday said yesterday he had not watched the rallies.
"We don't have long to wait again now," Panday added, reserving comment for tomorrow when he will co-host IE TV's election night coverage with COP's Mary King. Whether or not the UNC's campaign had been based on an "air" war and the PNM employed its traditional modus operandi of a "ground" war, yesterday's rallies demonstrated how mobilised both camps are. And as much as the message of anticipated victory was clear from the Opposition, the ruling party also signalled it will be a fight all the way to the last ballot on Monday night. Rallying at the battlefields of Aranguez and Tacarigua drew to a close yesterday with one indication uppermost. It really appears that way: close. (Gail Alexander)