T&T’s election commission dismisses claims by former PM

Port of Spain, Trinidad, CMC — The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has dismissed a claim by former Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar that her coalition People’s Partnership had been denied victory in Monday’s general election as a result of the EBC’s decision to extend the time allotted for voting.

The coalition said it was challenging the results based on the unilateral decision of the EBC to extend the voting period by one hour due to the inclement weather.

“The rules which govern a general election are quite clear. Strict adherence to these rules is absolutely necessary to minimize and avoid irregularities. Failure to do so will result in allegations and perceptions of unfairness and favouritism.”

Persad Bissessar said that the information and data received by the party “strongly suggested that the People’s Partnership was comfortably ahead in the polls at 6:00 pm. The march to victory adversely affected by the sudden unilateral decision by the EBC to extend hours of the poll from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm”.

She said that the “EBC cannot and should not change the rules of engagement without giving proper notice to candidates, political parties and voters.”

But in a statement, the EBC said that “Section 71 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which establishes the Elections and Boundaries Commission, also 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. 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,” the EBC added.

In a statement issued late Wednesday night, the coalition, comprising the United National Congress (UNC), the Congress of the People (COP), the Tobago Organization of the People (COP) and the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) said that it had received legal advice in its change to the results.

The PNM won 23 of the 41 seats that were at stake in Monday’s general election with the coalition, which had won 29 seats in 2010, only able to win 18.

The coalition said it had “received reports that citizens were unable to cast their vote at certain polling stations because the officials of the EBC were themselves unaware or uncertain about the decision to extend the time of voting until 7:00 pm. Additionally, many citizens were unaware of this extension of time and hence did not cast their vote.”

The coalition said that Rule 27 (1) of the election rules “is quite clear” noting that “the taking of the poll at each polling station shall be between 6 0’clock in the morning and 6 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day.

“Any suspension or adjournment must be based on fair and adequate prior public notice to ensure there is a level playing field. Thus, the poll could have been adjourned to the following day to facilitate those who were unable to cast their vote for good reason. This has in fact happened in the past.”

The coalition said that it had been advised that the “decision by the EBC to give an extra hour undermines the legal framework which governed the conduct of the general election and was tantamount of the shifting of the political goal post at the end of the game”.

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