By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar
PORT OF SPAIN, Aug 10 – Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley claimed victory for his ruling party in a general election on Monday, appearing to secure a second term despite concern over the coronavirus, migration and recession in the energy-rich Caribbean country.
Preliminary results showed the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) won 22 of the 41 electoral seats, while the opposition United National Congress (UNC) led by former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar won 19 seats.
Official results are expected on Tuesday.
“In a most difficult situation, we have once again been called to the service of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley told reporters late on Monday.
The election campaign in the twin island nation of 1.3 million people was overshadowed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, with traditional, colorful political rallies replaced by streamed rallies and noisy motorcades.
Trinidad and Tobago, which has been officially closed to travel since March, has registered a relatively low total of 280 cases of the virus and 8 deaths – a fact the ruling PNM heralded as testament to its successful handling of the outbreak.
Yet, like in many countries worldwide, the number of cases has jumped again since it started easing initial lockdown measures. It currently has 134 active cases.
Moreover, the opposition UNC has criticized Rowley’s government for requiring nationals who did not return to the country before the border closure to obtain exemptions to travel home.
The party also accused the government of not protecting borders and allowing thousands of Venezuelans, fleeing their country’s economic collapse, to enter illegally.
Trinidad and Tobago’s own economy has not fared well of late, contracting seven out of the last 10 years largely due to lower energy prices.
The ruling party has said it will continue to seek to diversify the economy by boosting exports of energy services, digitalising services to improve ease of business and providing support to the private sector. (Reporting by Linda Hutchinson-Jafar in Port of Spain Writing by Sarah Marsh Editing by Robert Birsel)