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Weekly Report - 10 September 2015 (WR-15-36)

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PNM returns to power in Trinidad & Tobago

The People’s National Movement (PNM) under Dr Keith Rowley triumphed in the general elections in Trinidad & Tobago on 7 September, consigning the People’s Partnership (PP) of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to defeat after just one term in power. The PNM suffered an unusually heavy defeat in 2010, winning just 12 constituencies to 29 for the PP, but since then the economy has stagnated, corruption allegations have proliferated, and public security has not improved markedly. The publication by the central bank of negative growth statistics just days before the elections may have proved decisive for the PNM, which ended up winning 23 seats to 18 for the PP. Tobago-born Rowley vowed to govern for the whole country, regardless of their political affiliations, and promised that “nobody will go hungry while others go overweight”.

It had been a deeply divisive campaign with Rowley sensationally accusing the PP of being behind a plot to kill him, an allegation which was dismissed as “reckless and dangerous” by Persad-Bissessar. The bald statistics, however, favoured the PNM. Although the number of murders peaked under the last PNM government at 550 in 2008, a key reason behind its thumping in the 2010 general elections, the PP government has failed to deliver on a promise to improve public security dramatically. Despite declaring a state of emergency for three months in 2011 to try and get a handle on rising crime, there were still 403 murders in 2014 and 288 in the year to election day.

The PP’s stewardship of the economy was also an easy target. Rowley has consistently accused the government of lying about the true state of the economy and his allegations appeared to be borne out when, just days before the elections, the central bank revealed that the economy contracted by -1.2% in the first quarter of 2015 year-on-year, directly contradicting a claim by Finance Minister Larry Howai that “despite falling energy prices [the] economy has continued to record positive growth”. Real annual GDP was just 0.9% in 2014.

Finally the PP government was damaged by corruption allegations, especially those surrounding its disgraced former national security minister, Jack Warner, a former Fifa executive facing extradition to the US after being charged with fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Warner, who was soundly beaten contesting the Chaguanas East seat for his new Independent Liberal Party, had alleged that Fifa money was used to fund Persad-Bissessar’s election campaign in 2010.