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T&T voters go to the polls Monday amid falling economy and natural gas output

STR/AFP

Trinidad and Tobago's former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (L), leader of the opposition United National Congress (UNC), waves at supporters during a motorcade on the closing rally of her campaign ahead of the election, in Siparia south of Trinidad and Tobago, a twin-island nation off Venezuela, on August 9, 2020

- Crime, Migration and a 5-Year Recession Fire up Trinidad Voters
- Prime Minister Keith Rowley has been in power since 2015

By Jim Wyss/Bloomberg

PORT SPAIN
Petroleumworld 08 10 2020

Trinidad and Tobago is holding parliamentary elections Monday amid soaring crime, a migration crisis and the longest recession in the Americas after neighboring Venezuela.

Polls indicate that Prime Minister Keith Rowley's ruling People's National Movement (PNM) has a narrow lead over its chief rival, the United National Congress (UNC).

Trinidad's oil and gas resources have long given the islands' 1.4 million residents one of the highest standards of living in the Americas. But the economy contracted in seven of the last ten years and and is smaller now than it was in 2008, amid falling natural gas output and worsening levels of competitiveness.

Successive governments have kicked the can down the road on tackling issues such as the massive fiscal deficit and the overvalued currency, but things may come to a head after the next administration takes office, said Marla Dukharan, a Trinidadian economist who produces the Caribbean Economic Report .

“I believe that in about a year, Trinidad and Tobago will run into a balance of payments crisis and need to go to the IMF ,” for a bailout, she said. “Only then are we going to see the kind of meaningful and positive shifts in policy that we have needed for the last 10 years.”

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and preliminary results are expected Monday night. More than 15 other parties are also competing for the 41 seats in parliament.

The elections come as incumbents across the region have recently been swept out of office, including in Suriname, Guyana and the Dominican Republic.

Oil and Gas

Trinidad's fiscal deficit will be about 11% of gross domestic product this year, according to the IMF's forecast, and poverty and unemployment are rising.

Oil and gas account for 26% of the nation's GDP and 80% of its exports. This over-dependence on energy is the root of many of the country's troubles, said Roger Hosein, an economist at the University of the West Indies.

The PNM draws most of its support from voters of African descent, while the UNC is mainly supported by people whose ancestors came from Asia. There are no significant ideological differences separating the parties.

Violent Crime

Much of the campaign has focused on rising violent crime, the Covid-19 crisis and on immigration from Venezuela.

The country is more violent than Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and last year reported 539 murders. The UNC has proposed giving the army the power of arrest to deal with rising gang violence.

Another election issue has been the arrival of migrants from the imploding economy of Venezuela, less than 10 miles away by boat, with both campaigns pledging more controls.

The country has about 24,000 Venezuelan migrants, according to a U.N. report this month, though the true figure may be higher since its been more than a year since Trinidad and Tobago allowed them to register, said Jessica Boulter, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute , a Washington-based think tank.

The country has adopted some of the harshest measures toward migrants in the region, such as not allowing Venezuelan children attend public schools, she added.

Reporting by Jim Wyss from Bloomberg.

bloomberg.com
08 10 2020

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