General Elections were held in Trinidad and Tobago on 5 November 2007 for all 41 seats in the House of Representatives. The number of seats was increased from 36 prior to the election.
The 41 members of the House of Representatives are elected in single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting. There is no fixed election date in effect in Trinidad and at this time; hence, the choice of election date is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
On 28 September 2007 Prime Minister Patrick Manning called elections to the House of Representatives for 5 November. It was dissolved on the same day along with the Senate (see note 1).
The 2007 elections followed a heated debate on constitutional reforms proposed by the Prime Minister's People's National Movement (PNM). The opposition United National Congress-Alliance (UNC) argued the proposals would give too much power to the prime minister.
Prime Minister Manning was seeking a second consecutive term in office. He pledged to lead the twin-island nation to a "developed status" by 2020. The country is known for its rich natural gas and energy resources which contributed to an economic growth rate of 12 per cent in 2006.
In the previous elections held in October 2002 the PNM had won 20 seats of the 36 seats at stake while the UNC had taken the remainder. The statutory number of members of the House was increased from 36 to 41 starting from the 2007 elections due to boundary changes.
Voting in the country has largely taken place along ethnic lines. Support for the PNM is high among Trinidadians of African descent who account for over 37 per cent of the population. The PNM has governed the country for all but 11 years since the party's inception in 1956. Mr. Manning called on voters to give him another mandate to continue his economic and social policies. He promised to "bring government closer to the people".
The UNC has strong backing among the 40 per cent of the population of Indian origin. In the 2007 elections it was co-led by former prime minister Mr. Basdeo Panday and Mr. Jack Warner Vice-President of the International Football Federation (FIFA). 74-year old Mr. Panday lost his seat in the outgoing legislature after failing to declare a bank account that he and his wife held in London (see note 2). Mr. Panday hinted at his retirement after the 2007 elections and urged his supporters to give him a "last hurrah" in his "long war" in politics over the past 40 years.
In addition to the PNM and the UNC the Congress of the People (COP) a breakaway party from the UNC contested the elections. Formed in August 2006 it was led by former Central Bank governor Mr. Winston Dookeran. He pledged to bring about "new politics" independent of ethnic considerations. The COP called for a change in the electoral system from the current first-past-the-post system to proportional representation arguing that such a move would ensure better representation in parliament. He rejected Mr. Panday's call to form an electoral alliance with the UNC.
Political Parties & Candidates
A total of 129 candidates, including 33 women contested the election. There were 126 candidates from six political parties and three independent candidates. The parties contesting the election were the incumbent People's National Movement (PNM), the official opposition United National Congress–Alliance (a coalition of the UNC and six smaller parties), the Congress of the People (a UNC splinter group), the Tobago United Front–Democratic Action Congress (a Tobago-based party) and the Democratic National Assembly (a new party based in Tobago). Both the PNM and the COP fielded candidates in all 41 constituencies while the UNC endorsed 39 candidates.
In October some pre-election violence was reported. One UNC activist was shot dead and one COP candidate was hospitalized after being severely beaten. Prime Minister Manning condemned the violence. However, the voting went off in relative peace. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was the only organization to send foreign observers. It declared that the elections were "free and fair".
The PNM won 26 of the 41 seats at stake just short of the two-thirds majority required to revise the constitution. The UNC took the remainder of the seats. Its co-leader Mr. Panday regained his seat. The COP failed to win a seat although it took over 22 per cent of the vote.
On 7 November Mr. Manning took the oath of office and formed a new government that included 11 women making it the second ever government made up mostly of women. On the following day ministers were sworn in alongside new senators.
On 13 November Prime Minister Manning appointed Mr. Danny Montano as Senate President.
On 17 December 2007 the newly-elected members to the House of Representatives were sworn in. The House re-elected Mr. Barendra Sinanan as its Speaker.
Voter turnout was 66.05%.