I am today agreeing with those who are contending that there is much at stake in the upcoming Local Government Elections, but not entirely for some of the same reasons currently dominating election talk.
For me, there are no ideological differences between the main combatants to render electoral results, under the current circumstances, capable of delivering serious change.
It is, however, true that both main contesting parties will soon face sturdy tests of their electoral popularity and appeal. But this will hardly be reflective of a broad “referendum” on popular political sentiment. Had that been the case, the 2020 General Election results would have been quite differently configured, given what occurred during LGE 2019.
It would also be quite difficult to evaluate the meaning of this if voter interest follows recent patterns. If anything, the voices of local government electors over the years have distinguished themselves by their silence. That, to me, has been the most instructive outcome of such polls.
In 2019, for example, voter turnout was under 35 per cent (34.49 to be precise). The UNC earned the highest number of votes with just about 54 per cent of that 35 per cent and the PNM a little over 43 per cent of the same low number of people who cared to visit the polling stations.
Three hundred and thirty-nine candidates (including 8 independents) contested 139 electoral districts. So, there was no apparent lack of enthusiasm by those who wish to occupy seats at the municipal tables.
But, whatever the post-election PR, and unless you clinically examined results in a selection of key districts and made observations about what happened there, nothing remarkable resulted to reflect serious partisan political preference.
Yet, the political parties all appeared to be Monty Python’s mortally wounded ‘Black Knight’ declaring nothing more than a “flesh wound”–“tis but a scratch”– concerning the low level of interest by the electorate in the contest. Go watch that clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to get the gist of what I am saying.
Even the entirely clueless smaller contestants found time to proudly exhibit armless and legless evidence of combative relevance.
It has, of course, been authoritatively determined over the many years of municipal elections that results in these contests are not inelastically tied to good or bad fortunes at times of parliamentary contests.
Parliamentary incumbency is often not an indication of municipal dominance, whatever the misalignments between the geography of “regions” against the borders of “constituencies.”
There have been occasions–such as in 2019, when the UNC won the popular vote, for example–that have been followed by a reversal of voter share at the General Election. This happened in 2020.
There is also the so-called “performance” factor. People do not generally acknowledge, on a daily basis, the parliamentary functions of MPs as lawmakers. They routinely turn to them for the meaningful but “small” matters of garbage collection, drainage maintenance, and the like. Things that make a critical, immediate difference to the quality of their lives.
The national politicians, in turn, are then often judged on their ability to effectively address such issues. This is fair enough, given the nature of our political campaigns. But it reflects a notion of central authority that all political sides have admitted to being not the very best thing.
Correspondingly, local government contests are often framed in the public eye to reflect broader “national” concerns and campaigns are accordingly designed to promote such matters.
I would, however, contend that our electors have all along been operating along different, but self-interested, tracks. Had purported public discontent on the national issues been reflected in the 2019 elections, the first sign would have been a vengeful voter turnout in 2020 … as occurred at the national level in 1986, for instance … and then again in 1991, albeit to a lesser degree.
Let’s face it. The country has effectively been short-changing itself on a main pillar of self-governance–if that is what we really want. We have perpetually relied on means to achieve results in the absence of broad participation, with a preference for imperial, central control.
Reforming our system of local government is thus much more than tinkering with the mechanics of how it works. I think the prescriptions to achieve that are pretty much settled. The bigger task signals a quantum leap from dependence to a state of independence.
Passing the baton of power and accountability to local communities and their politicians signifies the real revolution. “Winning” or “losing” elections has not turned out to be important in this respect.