– Lincoln Holder
THREE months of intense and bitter political campaigning are over.
Today the people will make their decision when they go to the polls to vote in the local government election.In a statement on Sunday, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) chief election officer, Fern Narcis-Scope, said “it’s all systems go” for the conduct of the election.
“We’re ready and every effort has been made to ensure each elector is able to cast their vote.”
In its preparations for the election, the EBC partnered with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), the Meteorological Service (TTMS) and the disaster management units (DMUs) of all 14 regional corporations.
Narcis-Scope said this was the beginning of what she considers to be a working partnership with these agencies going forward.
The EBC will be monitoring Monday’s weather conditions and will receive regular updates from the TTMS. With the assistance of the ODPM and the DMUs, sandbags have also been pre-positioned in flood-prone areas in the event of an emergency during voting hours.
Traditionally, there is a greater interest in parliamentary elections.
But Narcis-Scope said, “Local government elections are logistically more challenging to execute and this election was no different.”
According to information provided by the EBC, approximately 1,078,651 people are eligible to vote.
Some of these – 13,284 – are special electors. They cannot vote today but special voting started on August 7 and ended at 3 pm on Sunday.
Election Rule 59 of the Representation of the People Act identifies the categories of people eligible to be treated as special electors.
They include members of the police service; the defence force; special reserve and estate police officers; members of the EBC; election candidates or their spouses in the electoral district where the candidate is registered; election agents or sub-agents in the electoral district they are registered in; patients in public or private hospitals; inmates in a public institution; members of the flight crew of an aircraft; and people working in offshore petroleum operations; or a person or member of any other organisation the EBC sees fit.
The commission reminded people that if they do not have poll cards or have expired polls cards, one can be made out for them at a polling station, once their names are on the revised list of electors.
Employers have been reminded that their employees are allowed two hours under the law to vote.
Workers cannot have any pay deducted from them when they go to vote.
Employers who fail to allow their workers two hours to vote or exert undue influence are liable on summary conviction to a fine of $30,000 or to one year in jail.
Chief Elections Officer Fern Nancis-Scope – ELECTIONS AND BOUNDARIES COMMISSION
The Representation of the People Act also reminds people (including voters, candidates and representatives of political parties) about election day offences.
These include no election placards on vehicles registered with the EBC, no music in any electoral district until two hours after polls close at 6 pm, no wearing of any clothing which has the colour of parties contesting the election and no consumption of alcohol by any EBC staff members who are based at polling stations.
The penalties for these offences include thousands of dollars in fines or periods of imprisonment for those who are found guilty.
The electorate was reminded to verify the location of their polling station before leaving home to vote as changes to polling station venues may have been made for this election. People who are unsure of the location of their polling station can visit the EBC’s website at www.ebctt.com and do a registration look up or call the EBC’s hotlines at 785-8206 or 785-8211.
Up for grabs is control of the 14 local government corporations in Trinidad.
After the last local government election in 2019, they were divided evenly between the PNM and the UNC.The PNM controls the San Fernando City, Port of Spain City, Diego Martin Borough, Tunapuna/Piarco Regional, Point Fortin Borough and San Juan/Laventille regional corporations.
The Chaguanas Borough, Siparia Borough, Penal/Debe Regional, Princes Town Regional, Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional and Sangre Grande Regional Corporations are controlled by the UNC.
The PNM is the only party fielding 141 candidates in each of the 141 local government districts being contested today.
The UNC and the newly formed National Transformation Alliance (NTA) have formed a coalition to contest the election.
The former is contesting 110 districts. The latter, led by former police commissioner and former national security minister Gary Griffith, is making its debut on the electoral stage by contesting 31 districts.
The PNM based its campaign on local government reform.
The UNC, through a video message circulated on social media by former chairman Jack Warner, are viewing the elections as “a dress rehearsal for 2025.”
The next general election is constitutionally due then.
Other parties in the election such as the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP) , Re-United Farmers Alliance, The National Party (TNP), Trinidad Humanity Campaign (THC) and Unity of The People (UTP), are each contesting a smaller number of districts than the PNM and UNC/NTA coalition.
These parties have spent the last three months trying to convince the electorate to take a chance and support them instead of the PNM and UNC/NTA.
A total of 372 candidates are contesting the elections in 141 local government districts.
Among them are six independent candidates-Vivian Johnson(Belmont South) Dixie-Ann Elliot (Pleasantville), Irvin Samuel Felix (Hollywood), Kendell Michael Hagley (Mayaro South/Guayaguayare), Gwendolyn Alana Charles (Valencia West) and Kathleen Washington (Blanchisseuse/Santa Rosa).
The EBC said since nomination day on June 26, one candidate withdrew from the La Romaine district.On May 29, the Prime Minister announced today as the date for the local government election.
The announcement came after the Privy Council ruled on May 18, that last year’s the decision to extend of the life of local government bodies was unlawful.
The election has been intensely contested with a lot of heated comments being exchanged between politicians and political parties.
The Council for Responsible Political Behaviour was forced to criticise individual politicians and parties for various breaches of the code of ethical political conduct during the campaign. The council has also appealed for all political parties to control themselves and their respective supporters to ensure the election is peaceful.
“Alongside the challenge of appropriate language, there were instances where respect, tolerance, peace and harmony were not always upheld.”
It also reminded political parties “there should be no harassment or intimidation and public and private property must be respected.”
On Monday, there will be winners and losers in the elections.
The council said, “While the winners will celebrate, they should ensure that their victory celebrations are tempered so as to ensure that on the morning of August 15, 2023, all citizens, winners, as well as losers, will hold their heads high in consideration of a well fought election.”
The council added, “Acknowledging that we will all continue to live in our common space, let us ensure that we live in peace and harmony.”
It said hoped the election “will be conducted in a manner of which we will all be proud.”