PORT-OF-SPAIN: The People’s Partnership coalition, ousted from government in last week’s general elections in Trinidad & Tobago, has announced that it will challenge the result in court.
Former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who leads the United National Congress (UNC) – the main party in the People’s Partnership (PP) coalition – believes that the decision by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to extend voting by one hour was unconstitutional and contributed to the PP defeat.
In a UNC statement, Persad-Bissessar charged that the PP would have won the election had the EBC not given residents more time to vote.
The EBC moved the close of the polls from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Trinidad only, because of heavy rains which caused flooding in some areas. At the end of the count, the People’s National Movement won 23 seats to the PP’s 18, but the former prime minister has insisted that the results be declared null and void.
“The challenge is based on the sudden decision of the EBC to extend the time for voting from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. throughout the country without any official notification to the People’s Partnership and its constituent parties,” said Persad-Bissessar in the statement. “Information and data received by the party strongly suggested that the People’s Partnership was comfortably ahead in the polls at 6 p.m. The march to victory was adversely affected by the sudden unilateral decision by the EBC to extend hours of the poll from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.”
She further charged that many voters were unable to cast their vote after 6 p.m. because EBC officials were themselves unaware or uncertain about the time extension; and there were other citizens who did not know about the extension and therefore did not go to vote past the original 6 p.m. deadline.
Persad-Bissessar insisted that if there needed to be a change, it should have been made with adequate prior notice and suggested that the EBC could have allowed for continued voting the following day.
She said the legal advice that her party received was that the EBC’s decision undermined the legal framework which governs the conduct of the general election and was tantamount to a “shifting of the political goal post at the end of the game”.
Persad-Bissessar said that might have affected the integrity of the process and the results in critical constituencies.
“This is a serious and important violation of the spirit and intention of the Constitution, the Representation of the People’s Act and the election rules,” she said. “We will therefore file these election petitions to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and justice is done.”
Contrary to her allegations, the UNC had sent out messages about the voting extension and used social media to encourage supporters to use the extra hour to cast their ballots.
Although the post about the extension of voting was subsequently removed from the UNC’s Facebook page, several Facebook users uploaded screen shots of the emails and messages they received after the decision was taken to give voters an extra hour to cast their ballots.
In response to the UNC challenge, the EBC said it has power under the Constitution to extend the voting deadline. It said that Section 71 of the Constitution, which establishes the Elections and Boundaries Commission, mandates its autonomy over the registration of voters and the conduct of elections in every constituency.
“Additionally, the constitution allows the Commission to exercise their powers in an unfettered manner, said Dominic Hinds, manager of corporate communications at the EBC. “Therefore, the decision to extend the hours of the poll finds its basis within the constitutional supervisory jurisdiction of the Commission in all election management matters.”