Premier Dr Rufus Ewing (L) and Opposition Leader Sharlene Cartwright Robinson
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, TCI -- Now that the campaign noise is over, the voters of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) will go to the polls on Thursday and choose their new government. As seems to be the case with all elections, this one is being touted by all sides as the most important in the British territory’s history.
The governing Progressive National Party (PNP) is satisfied that it has fulfilled its promises – and some – and is ready to take the territory to “the next level”; the opposition Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) naturally disagrees, and feels that “Enough is Enough – and It’s time for a change”, with a newly formed third party, the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA), calling for “A new beginning … United for Change”.
While there has in the past been some wild swings, with both the PDM and the PNP at different times garnering all but two of the 15 seats, the voters appear to be split more or less equally between the two main parties. In the most recent 2012 general elections, while the PNP won with a single seat majority, the PDM won the popular vote, by just under 1,000. However, this time many local observers consider the waters more muddied than ever.
In addition to the new PDA, there are some ten independent candidates and while most of these candidates are largely unknown, there are a few with at least a small question mark who, while they are not very likely to emerge as winners, could siphon off sufficient votes from their traditional party to affect the final outcome.
Four non-PDM and non-PNP candidates are being closely watched, all of which it is widely believed would side with the PNP, should they become winners. And the majority of the independents are former PDM supporters.
One unusual feature of this election that has caught the attention of British media is former premier Michael Misick, who is seeking to make a political comeback as an independent candidate, despite being currently on trial for alleged corruption, fraud and money laundering.
Misick, who had to be extradited from Brazil to stand trial on the various corruption-related charges, has not seen fit to run in his old constituency – and some believe he realized that he would not have been accepted there this time around.
Another former minister running in this election as an independent candidate is McAllister ‘Piper’ Hanchell, who is also currently on trial along with Misick, accused of similar corruption-related offences in an ongoing trial that could go well into 2017, and is costing the taxpayers many millions of dollars.
What is therefore being closely watched is what the election result might show about the TCI people’s perception of the “systemic corruption” conclusion by a 2009 Commission of Inquiry, resulting in the eventual indictment of Misick and Hanchell along with three more former cabinet ministers.
Those involved are all members of the PNP; and, while the party won by a margin of one seat in the 2012 general elections, the charges, which some considered an indictment of the party itself, were not yet spelled out, as they are this time.
It is not known how widespread the belief is that those charged on numerous counts of “systemic corruption” in PNP governments between 2003 and 2009 have done nothing wrong.
In fact, current Premier Dr Rufus Ewing told Britain’s Economist magazine that “the blame should be laid squarely at the feet of the British government” for failing in its responsibility for “maintaining and highlighting good governance”.
Another dynamic is the Haitian vote, counted upon in the past by the PNP, but now seems to not be as committed judging from their numbers at PDM rallies. Misick has gone all out to get the Haitian TCIslanders’ support in his independent bid for an at-large seat, to the extent of bringing in former Haitian president and entertainer Michael Martelly, who openly endorsed him, making reference to the two MMs – Michael Misick and Michael Martelly. Whether or not this will assure him of the Haitian vote remains to be seen.
There have been some defections from the PNP, most notable to date being a former PNP government minister, Lillian Boyce, who is also on trial along with Misick and Hanchell.
Her endorsement of opposition leader Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson was made during what many described as the largest campaign rally ever during this campaign season, held in Boyce’s old constituency and, incidentally, where the largest number of Haitian TCIslanders reside.
In the light of the events of the last 13 years, “The islands’ leaders and voters would be wise to think carefully about what they wish for,” the Economist magazine remarked.