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Deputy Leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) Farley Augustine is unfazed by polls showing that the People’s National Movement (PNM) is in the lead for Monday’s Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.

According to a North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) poll yesterday, the PNM is leading in 11 out of 12 seats.

“My reaction would be the same as the first poll result which is the only poll that we are focused on, which is the one that will take place on Monday, and we are pretty confident that what will happen on Monday will overturn what the polls are suggesting,” Augustine told the Sunday Guardian.

He said he was confident because of the reaction and support his party has been getting on the ground.

Augustine also said that they had a good performance in the general election of 2020 where they got over 10,000 votes, which was an increase from prior elections. They expect to do even better on Monday as they continue “trending upwards,” he said.

Some of the major issues he believes that are affecting the people of Tobago include accountability, management of the THA’s resource, and over the last 20 years they have not gotten value for taxpayers’ money.

Commenting on claims made by economist Dr Vanus James, a PDP supporter, that there may be attempts by the PNM to rig the elections, Augustine said that they will be on the lookout.

“I always hope for a free and fair election. Our eyes are opened to all and every dirty trick and we would be monitoring the election process closely.”

According to the Elections and Boundaries Commission’s website, 51,062 people are eligible to vote.

NACTA POLL REVEALS

According to NACTA, headed by Vishnu Bisram, the incumbent PNM goes into the elections with a lead in 11 out of the 12 seats. This, according to the findings of the latest opinion poll conducted through Saturday morning by NACTA.

In a media release yesterday, NACTA said the PNM has expanded its lead compared with polls conducted during the first week in January. Updated polling that began three weeks ago shows the PNM holding a steady lead in popular support and seats over the opposition PDP.

“As of January 23 morning, NACTA’s tracking poll’s findings reveal that the PNM leads 11-1. Two of those seats, Goodwood/Belle Garden West and Charlotteville/Speyside can go either way, but PNM is slightly leading in both. In the lone seat where the PDP leads, Belle Gardens East/Roxborough/Delaford, Watson Duke is facing a strong challenge in a neck-and-neck contest.”

Based on the poll’s findings the PNM has majority support in six seats and leading comfortably in three more seats. The PNM has narrow leads in two more seats. The Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) has a slight lead in the Roxboro seat that is a statistical dead heat.

Four of the seats where the PNM leads are at or just below 50 per cent. Overall, the PNM leads 52 per cent to 44 per cent. Some four per cent of the voters say they are undecided. They could determine the outcome of the closely fought seats. The poll has a margin of error of four per cent. The NACTA poll concluded that election day machinery would determine the outcome.

NACTA said that the latest findings show a turn around in support for the PNM from a year ago. A poll conducted last year January found the Tobago PNM on the back foot struggling to retain support among rank-and-file members and traditional supporters under the leadership of then chief secretary Kelvin Charles.

A leadership contest led to the ousting of Charles as PNM Tobago leader in January 2020. He was unseated by Tracy Davidson-Celestine. According to NACTA, party supporters said she has “rehabilitated support for PNM and has brought a level of dynamism not seen since the days of Orville London who retired as chief secretary in January 2017.”

NACTA said the leadership change has resulted in the return of supporters who were drifting away from the party resulting in PNM victory for the island’s two parliamentary seats in the general election last August.

“Voters say that the Peoples National Movement has gained momentum under Tracy Davidson-Celestine’s leadership and is on the cusp of winning Monday’s THA elections. She has very high approval ratings.

“Tracy leads the projected PDP’s Chief Secretary nominee Farley Augustine in popularity rating 52 per cent to 43 per cent. She also leads in approval rating with a net positive of 25 per cent as opposed to Farley’s whose net rating is a mere four per cent and Watson Duke two per cent.”

The NACTA poll also said that there has been a lot of rural development in Tobago, especially in the East of the island that has always been a support challenge for the PNM. “Over the last several years, the East has seen modernised government buildings, health centres, hospitals, licensing office, administrative office, fire stations, gas stations, police stations, relief centres, schools, recreation grounds, national insurance centres, among other projects.

“But the anti-PNM vote still remains strong among PDP supporters. And thus, close contests are projected in some seats.”

But, he adde, “PNM enjoys the advantage of incumbency and resources.”

Analyst: The main challenge is getting PNM’s support base out on election day to vote

Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath is not surprised by polls showing the PNM has a commanding lead as he said the PNM has always been able to “surge ahead.”

The main challenge, he said, is getting their support base out on election day to vote.

The big issue that stood out during the campaign was corruption and governance and accountability, he said.

“This is the issue that the PDP campaigned on. While the PNM campaigned on creating fear in the minds of the people of Tobago that the PDP may be aligning itself with the UNC. This goes back to previous campaigns.”

Despite the PNM winning both Tobago seats in the 2020 general election, he said the general election and THA elections are different.

He also spoke about a decline in people coming out to vote and said, however, he was not sure why.

“What we have been seeing in the recent past is that there has been a declining number of those who go out to vote on election day. That is the concern that the PNM has if they can motivate their support base on election day.”