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Tight race for St Joseph seat
For 2010 general elections, retiree Percy Villafana became an overnight sensation after blocking former Prime Minister Patrick Manning from his family’s San Juan residence during a People’s National Movement (PNM) walkabout. His crossed arms fuelled a campaign across the nation urging then opposition supporters to “do so” when approached by the PNM. Three years later with Monday’s by-election in the seat of the man on whose platform he appeared on in 2010—ex MP Herbert Volney—Villafana is home in Canada and not interested in T&T politics his sister Joan said. “And neither am I,” she added. Monday’s St Joseph by-election, projected to be a tight race between the major parties is critical to the ruling People’s Partnership coalition, the Opposition PNM and fledgling—some say failing—Independent Liberal Party (ILP) moreso than the recent local government polls. This, after the local government election result which saw only a three corporations (plus one tie) difference between PNM’s victory and UNC’s loss. The UNC will aim to upset PNM’s political foothold, or at worst retain traditional areas in the seat enough to surpass ILP and save face as with the local government election results.
PNM after a much touted local government victory and hyped projection of winning general polls has been put on the spot to maintain face and ensure it wins, not only to increase to 13 seats, but also prove it’s genuinely expanding and October 21 success wasn’t an aberration. Because of the PP/ILP split, however, PNM is highly confident of success in this northern area. ILP will have to best both to ensure the future of party and leader Jack Warner whose political reputation was wounded on October 21 and can hardly further risk “the Queen hanging the Jack”. The three main candidates convey PNM’s courting of the Indo T&T community, vital to leader Keith Rowley’s national image-tweaking drive (Terrence Deyalsingh), PP’s replacement of the Warner high profile/performance model (Ian Alleyne) and ILP’s urgency to bolster its faltering image (Om Lalla). Elections and Boundaries Commission local government results show the UNC beat ILP two to one in the five corporations UNC won, polling its highest total (32,528) in the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional corporation. Highest vote was in Barrackpore West (3,287).
ILP’s largest total—19,544—was in UNC’s Couva district with rising ILP support in three pockets. ILP’s highest votes were in Kelly Village (2,254) against COP’s ( 2,223). Despite Warner’s claim COP is “dead,” COP bested ILP in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. PNM’s highest total (37,788) was in Tunapuna corporation and highest vote (3,701), Maloney. Combined UNC/ILP votes would have beaten PNM in Sangre Grande and COP/ILP would have been close in Tunapuna. But the combination wouldn’t have beaten PNM in San Juan/Laventille, or in PNM’s five stronghold corporations where PNMites say their new youth votes helped. Still, combined PP members’ votes (155,353) plus ILP’s total (102,801) would indeed have bested PNM’s 188,894 total. It confirms UNC’s split vote view and that a majority doesn’t support PNM. Among the dozen factors involved, certain St Joseph pockets are crucial for Monday’s polls, expected to be a snapshot for 2015 general polls,. Warner on the Chaguanas deadlock softened his position, saying ILP and UNC should shelve differences and try to work things out. Monday’s results will be pivotal in how that is resolved next week. But ILP’s campaign lacked a conducive environment. While Warner said ILP stooped “too low” in its local government campaign, Lalla later declared he had “files on everybody”. On to today to see what the “split vote,” coupled with the personalities and platforms proffered to St Joseph, will produce. And whose future will be at stake.
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