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Raffique Shah


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Much ado about nothing

By Raffique Shah
July 13, 2020

I don't know why Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar thought it necessary to appeal to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to invite a team of observers from The British Commonwealth and/or CARICOM to witness the conduct of the general election that will take place on August 10. All elections in the history of independent Trinidad and Tobago have been conducted by the Elections and Boundaries Commission, a creature of the Constitution, and there was hardly an occasion on which there were allegations of irregularities. Indeed, not only is the EBC seen to be fair and fiercely independent, but it hardly ever erred in an election, and even when it did, its actions were not deemed partisan or corrupt.

I remember its recent blunder, in the 2015 general election, when some senior official or officials of the EBC arbitrarily extended voting hours beyond 6 p.m. (to 7 p.m.) because of inclement weather. When I heard of the extension on radio mid-afternoon, I instinctively felt it was wrong because while there were rains, and presumably in some districts, flooding, the weather was not such that it prevented people from exercising their franchise.

In the aftermath, the UNC, led by Persad-Bissessar, filed petitions in the courts that sought to nullify the results in six constituencies. Judge Mira Dean-Armorer ruled that while the EBC's extension of voting hours was illegal, the election's results will not have favoured the UNC even if every vote cast during the extra hour was for the UNC.

The judge added, "The ordinary man in T&T would recognise that the poll was conducted peacefully throughout the day and that the only obstacle was presented by inclement weather, over which the election laws had no control. My assessment, of the view of the ordinary man, is strengthened by the reflection that the election was challenged in only six of 39 constituencies in Trinidad, in spite of the fact that the very widespread multiple breaches took place throughout the island of Trinidad,"

The UNC appealed Justice Armorer's decision, but the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal/ Even though the EBC was found to have erred in extending the voting time, its action did not favour any of the parties that contested the election. One would think that with that skirmish in the courts over the conduct of the election and the results fresh in Ms Persad-Bissessar's mind, she would be eager to see this year's election run as smoothly as possible, without having to resort to the courts, or, indeed, foreign observers.

I imagine too that she must have factored in the additional impediments the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed on the country, especially as they relate to the closure of our borders, and the WHO's protocols that have become part of our daily lives, which will have a direct bearing on the way the election is conducted. Physical distancing and quarantining of all persons entering T&T from abroad are standard practices. As a citizen, I do not want to see these restrictive measures lifted at the risk of having this little-known virus wreak havoc on the population, especially on the children of the nation.

In such circumstances, the UNC should not have sought to have foreign observers come to the country, with all the procedures they will be subjected to, and the additional costs incurred by them and the government. We must be able to trust some institutions, if not individuals, to perform their duties proficiently, and in a fair manner. If we have lost trust in each other to the extent that we need the hands of foreigners to oversee our activities, then heaven help us.

T&T is not Guyana-never has been. As similar as we may seem to be, what with the racial compositions of the two populations, we are poles apart in how we interact, the way we live. I feel sorry for the Guyanese people. But I do not see T&T descending into that kind of hellhole, not in the aftermath of this general election, not ever.

Hell, this population came together in 1986, when it had had enough of the PNM, and all but slaughtered the mighty party that Dr Eric Williams had built, inflicting a 33-3 massacre. Outgoing Prime Minister George Chambers quietly handed over the reins of power to ANR Robinson and rode off into the sunset, leaving the new government to do what it was elected to do, to prosecute corrupt PNM ex-ministers and financiers if it found evidence of wrongdoing, and so on. Nobody destroyed files or in any way obstructed the new regime.

Since then, the people have changed regimes on seven occasions, and not once was the democratic process undermined by subversion of elections or other processes. Why will that happen now? I think Ms Persad-Bissessar is making much ado about nothing. Get on with the election and let the people decide who will lead them for the next five tough years.

I pity the poor bugger who wins.

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