December 10, 2000

Trinidad's national election seen as close contest

                  PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (Reuters) -- Troubled by violent crime but flush with
                  massive foreign investment, the oil- and gas-rich Caribbean nation of Trinidad
                  and Tobago holds national elections on Monday to choose a new government.

                  Political analysts say the election is expected to produce another close fight
                  between Prime Minister Basdeo Panday's United National Congress (UNC) and
                  opposition leader Patrick Manning's People's National Movement (PNM), both
                  of which won 17 seats in the 36-seat parliament in the last general election in November 1995.

                  Following that election, the UNC formed a coalition government with the
                  minority National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), which won two seats.

                  The campaign has been marred by charges of electoral corruption. The PNM
                  alleged the ruling party attempted to pad voter rolls in toss-up precincts with its
                  supporters. During investigations of the charges, police searched the offices and
                  homes of a number of UNC members, including Works and Transport Minister
                  Sadiq Baksh.

                  A poll conducted by St. Augustine Research Associates published on Friday in
                  the Trinidad Express newspaper found the PNM likely to win 18 seats and the
                  UNC 16, reversing a slight margin for the UNC in a poll two weeks earlier.

                  But the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points,
                  found the UNC still held a lead among decided voters, 45 percent to 42 percent.

                  The poll found the NAR was likely to retain its two seats.

                  Race frequently plays a role in Trinidad politics. The population of about 1.3
                  million is nearly equally divided between people of African descent, who
                  generally favor the PNM, and those of Indian descent, who usually vote for the

                  "A combination of UNC platform triumphalism and that which was expressed in
                  the UNC campaign blitz, served to arouse the latent fears of the some elements in
                  the Afro-creole population," Dr. Selwyn Ryan, who conducted the poll, said of
                  the narrow PNM lead.

                  "Last ditch hard work by the PNM also seems to have yielded dividends. The
                  issues of electoral and other kinds of corruption also appear to have taken their
                  toll," he said.

                  Trinidad and Tobago is an economic powerhouse among the small nations of the
                  Caribbean basin, having built rich offshore oil and natural gas reserves into solid
                  energy and manufacturing industries.

                  Panday's five-year term saw the opening of the Caribbean's biggest-ever
                  industrial project, the $1 billion Atlantic Liquefied Natural Gas plant. Early this
                  year BP Amoco and the other principals in the project inked a billion-dollar
                  expansion of the plant, which is expected to add $6 billion in annual tax and
                  royalty revenue to Trinidad's coffers over 20 years.

                  In late September, BP Amoco announced that a well on the southeast coast off
                  Galeota Point indicated around 3 trillion cubic feet (90 billion cubic metres) of
                  gas and 90 million barrels of associated oil condensate, the largest find in the
                  country's history.

                  A British-trained lawyer and trade unionist, Panday hopes to parlay the economic
                  successes of the last five years into 100,000 new jobs in the next five through
                  increased foreign investment, expansion of exports and increased diversification
                  in service sectors, including tourism.

                  "We must become an intelligent nation in the technologies of the 21st century.
                  This will lead directly to more than 100,000 well-paying jobs in the next five
                  years," a UNC campaign manifesto said.

                  But residents of this Caribbean nation off the Venezuela coast have been troubled
                  by increasing drug crime and Trinidad's growing role as a way station for South
                  American cartels shipping cocaine to market in North America.

                  Spurred in part by worries over drug crime, Trinidad's government resumed
                  executions in June 1999 after a five-year hiatus, hanging reputed drug lord Dole
                  Chadee and eight of his gang within a four-day period.

                  His nation's concern with crime prompted Panday to say last week that
                  something was "fundamentally wrong" with the police force despite his
                  government's efforts to fund improvements.

                     Copyright 2000 Reuters.