2015 promises to be an interesting one for Trinbagonians. With the impending general/parliamentary elections set for May, those who've been clamouring for social change will finally have their chance to help chart the islands' political future.
Of course when the issue of elections is raised, there are always murmurings on whether we expats should consider returning home to vote, an approach that I myself often joke about but am now giving serious thought to actually doing. But aside from the potential legal ramifications (which I'll also address), one must stop to consider the social implications as well.
Simply put, is it right for a Trinbagonian living abroad to have the right to vote in affairs at home?
Those that argue against the practice cite various reasons such physical/geographic isolation from the voting base, unfamiliarity with local affairs as well not contributing to the nation's tax revenue base should preclude any expat. But then on the other hand, with the advent of the internet and the proliferation of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, expatriate Trinbagonians are now more informed than ever if not certainly more involved in local affairs. And with many of us with financial and real estate holdings on the islands not to mention still having family and friends living there, many would see this as justification enough to give us "foreign locals" a vote.
YAY OR NAY?
Let's explore the arguments for and against voting rights for expats.
The premise here is simple, if you don't live there, you shouldn't vote there. Living thousands of miles away in another country should preclude that person mainly because of an assumed unfamiliarity with local affairs. When roads go bad or there are issues with public transportation, crime, cost of living, food prices and things like the erosion of public trust in law enforcement, it is assumed that decisions on issues like these should be made by the persons actually affected.
On a local level, constituents each region are most aware of the issues specific to their region which is why it is impossible for a resident of one local regional council to go vote in another. As a former resident of St. Anns East (i.e. Maracas, Santa Cruz, St. Anns, etc), I couldn't cast my vote at a San Fernando West polling station. Following that line of thinking, as a current resident of Gwinnett County, Atlanta GA, USA, it would make sense that I be excluded because I don't live there.
Simply put, only locals should have the right to vote on affairs that only affect locals.
Counter argument - Trinidad and Tobago is no longer the isolated little twin-island republic it used to be. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Ian Alleyne (lol) and Rachel Price as well as various prominent local blogs serve to provide outsiders like myself with an inside look at the day to day happenings in Trinidad and Tobago. Conveniences such Google Voice, Skype, Magic Jack and Apple Facetime help to keep expats directly connected with loved ones and keep us updated in real time, so much so that I am often aware things happening in T&T long before many of my family and friends. That being said, should isolation really be an excuse for cutting us out?
I probably shouldn't have to go into detail here but for argument sake I will. As a foreign-based Trinbagonian, it is assumed my contribution to the nation's revenue theoretically amounts to a "sizeable" zero dollars and zero cents. Uncle Sam gets all of my income tax revenue. That being said, the premise here is that if I don't contribute money to the country's coffers, that I shouldn't have the right to help determine how that money is spent.
Counter argument - Income tax isn't the only form of fiscal contribution. Many expats have sizeable cash holdings, land, businesses and other such investments, most of which are taxable. We pay property taxes, we pay capital gains taxes on interest not to mention the often obscene amount of Uncle Sam's dollars that expats tend to pump into the economy especially around Carnival time. I'm almost sure expats buy enough Shandy Carib and Naparima girls cookbooks to match the GDP of Grenada.
As such, it is my belief that if one is from there and one spends/invests there, that one should surely be able to have a say in electing Trinbago's next government.
Perpetuating the perception of racial bias
This is really the gorilla in the room for which I don't think I have a counter. The situation is this, Trinbagonians have not evolved beyond voting along racial lines. Political parties are often deeply ingrained in family tradition. You often hear "I was born into a PNM family." I vote PNM because my parents voted PNM and my parents parents before them voted PNM, etc......I basically wear my balisier proudly on my chest.
But lets face it, I vote PNM because I am an afro-trinbagonian. Most UNC/PPP/COP supporters probably do so because they're East Indian. Any talk of returning home to vote is really just a thinly veiled ploy to bulk up the ethnic support for one group or the other. One ethnic group is tired of the other ethnic group being in power basically.
This racial undertone to our political process is the one aspect of Trinbago culture that I cannot stand. Despite that fact, I still couldn't convince myself to vote outside of the racial trend myself. Besides, it'd be a shame to have to go cut down all those pretty little balisier plants we have growing round the back.
Race relations aside, the fact remains that 99% of the people I care about, continue to live their lives in Trinidad and Tobago. Decisions on political affairs affects them and their well being. Further to that, I myself have no intention to remain in the US of A the rest of my natural life. Someday I will say goodbye to these hellish winters to return to the land of fresh doubles.
By the time I move back, I'd like to see perhaps a modern transit network, proper roads and highways, free tertiary education, maybe drainage infrastructure in Port-of-Spain that doesn't date back to the 1800's (a brother can dream).
I believe that the parties in power definitely do shape a nation's future and I feel that as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, it is my right to help elect leadership best equipped to get us there.
.....................whether that's legal or not is another story for another day.