‘Tobago ethnicity awakened with a vengeance’

In a 2008 paper titled “Ethnic Mobilization vs Ethnic Politics, Meighoo argued that “what analysts claim as ‘racialist’ politics in Trinidad and Tobago amounts to not much more than competition for office and demands for a share of Government patronage in terms of jobs, business contracts, directorships, State funding, and so on. As a rule, political parties stress their national character, and play down any ethnic bias. They regularly claim that the other political parties are ethnic, while they are national.”

In 1984, which was the only other time there was a 70 per cent voter turnout for the Tobago House of Assembly election, the People’s National Movement got just one district. On January 21 this year, with another record number of people going to the polls, the PNM took all 12 districts on the island. Even in 1980, when the THA was created by Act 37 of 1980 for “making better provision for the administration of the island of Tobago and for matters therein”, only 66 per cent of the electorate came out to vote. Since then, voter turnout has averaged 55 per cent.

With just over 46,000 eligible voters, this means that nearly 7,000 people who ordinarily wouldn’t have voted came out to cast their ballots. So why did Tobagonians come out in higher numbers than they had in the past 28 years? Was it because of racism, as alleged by UNC chairman Jack Warner and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan? Or was it fear, as asserted by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar?

Political analyst Kirk Meighoo says the key factors were ethnicity, not race. “Tobagonians voted on an island nationalist basis, which IS an ethnic basis, but not a racial basis. There is a big difference between race and ethnicity,” he explained to the Sunday Express in an e-mail response. “Insofar as politics is mobilised ethnically — in that wider sense of ethnicity — then the Tobago ethnicity was awakened with a vengeance.”


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