Trinidad and Tobago race tight ahead of Monday elections

trinidad-and-tobago-flag-with-real-structure-of-a-fabricTrinidad and Tobago’s two major political parties have virtually equal support ahead of Monday’s general elections, which pollsters pegged as too close to call heading into a final weekend of campaigning.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is running for re-election, led a massive motorcade of her People’s Partnership (PP) coalition along north Trinidad’s densely populated East-West Corridor Friday.

She is hoping to beat volcanologist Keith Rowley, who leads the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM).

Either side could emerge with a majority in Parliament’s 41-seat House of Representatives, all of which are up for grabs, as both parties vie for Trinidad and Tobago’s 1.1 million voters.

Thousands of supporters were expected to attend rallies and political events across the twin-island nation Saturday as Persad-Bissessar and Rowley make their electoral pitches, Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday publication reported.

Police even opened a priority bus route along the East-West Corridor in expectation of the crowds, it said.

Results of the elections, which run from 6 am to 6 pm Monday, are expected near midnight — and no sooner — due to a lack of exit polls.

More than 100 candidates filed nomination papers in mid-August to run for office, according to local media.

Persad-Bissessar’s popularity rating has remained high despite a handful of administrative blunders and the dismissal of several ministers on her watch for indiscretions.

Corruption allegations exposed in the media and by the PNM have not seemed to seriously undermine Persad-Bissessar’s campaign.

Her ruling coalition’s slogan, “Kamla 2015,” attempted to capitalize on her popularity and present the contest as one about leadership, rather than parties.

– Swing voters pivotal –

One poll predicting a victory for Persad-Bissessar’s coalition also forecast that it would have a significantly reduced majority, with the PNM regaining ground lost in the 2010 elections along the northern corridor.

Swing voters remain pivotal in determining who will gain control of the next Parliament.

Several swing areas have squatter settlements and Persad-Bissessar has promised deeds to squatters living on state lands for more than one year.

Although the murder rate continues to grab headlines and cause concern among the population, police statistics show that serious crimes are down to their lowest levels in more than 10 years.

The PNM has accused the government of deliberately dismantling intelligence agencies it had set up while in office, allowing gangs, drugs and gun runners to thrive.

The campaign has featured both Rowley and Persad-Bissessar conducting town hall-type meetings.

It was during one such meeting on Thursday that Persad-Bissessar admitted making errors but stoutly defended her stewardship, stating that she was “neither weak nor foolish” and was not being controlled by any group within her cabinet.

However her claims of stabilizing the economy and maintaining growth in spite of the fall in oil and gas revenues were debunked by statistics released Friday by the central bank indicating the economy contracted by 1.2 percent and unemployment increased to 3.7 percent, with the loss of more than 20,000 jobs in the first quarter of this year.

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