Al-Rawi: Kamla’s claim of irregularities in special voting ‘ UNC rhetoric’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Local Government minister Faris Al Rawi and his mother Diane Seukrran cast their vote at the San Fernando West secondary school in the LOcal Government elections on Monday – Lincoln Holder

On Monday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, once again raised concerns about allegations of irregularities in the special voting process, and threatened to take legal action if necessary to ensure democracy and transparency in the electoral process.

At around 12.05 pm on Monday, Persad-Bissessar and her husband, Dr Gregory Bissessar, arrived at the Hermitage Presbyterian School in San Fernando, where they voted in the local government elections.

Afterwards, Persad-Bissessar told reporters about layout “issues” at the Gulf View Community Centre in La Romaine and about ballot boxes for special voters appearing to have been tampered with.

The Gulf View community centre which was used as a polling station where opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar says there were some concerns on Local Government election day – Photo by Lincoln Holder

The UNC leader said she complained to the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) and was told there was “a deviation from standard procedure.”

“But why is it that only the ballots relating to Sangre Grande and San Fernando are the ones that appeared to be tampered with? As we all know, those are the two battleground regional corporations, and I am very, very concerned about that process,” Persad-Bissessar said.

On the elections in general, she said from what she had been told, the turnout in some areas was very low in the north and west, Trinidad, and in other areas there was a steady flow.

While she had not received reports of major incidents, she said she remained concerned about the integrity of the ballots, saying that could affect the results.

Special voting started on August 7 and ended on Sunday at 3 pm. The EBC has said the special voting was not compromised.

Opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar after voting at the Hermitage Presbyterian primary school in the Local Government Elections on Monday – Photo by  Lincoln Holder

Persad-Bissessar said the UNC has repeatedly called for international observers in elections.

“The Prime Minister has a different view. I totally disagree with that. If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you want them to come? It cannot be an issue of cost,” she said.

She said Dr Rowley spent millions of dollars on hosting July’s conference of Caricom heads of government as well as foreign dignitaries.

She said had he agreed to the observers, he would have had to provide only accommodation and transport for them.

“So we remain very, very concerned with the whole process. As I say, at the end of the day, we know how it goes.

“I just hope people exercise their democratic rights to come out and vote. I hope they put the X by the rising sun (the UNC’s symbol).

“Mornings are usually slow, but in the afternoon, things would pick up,” she said.

Two hours later, at around 2.10 pm, Rural Development and Local Government Minister and San Fernando West MP Faris Al-Rawi voted at the San Fernando West Secondary School. He dismissed Persad-Bissessar’s allegations of irregularities as “UNC rhetoric” and “UNC bacchanal.”

His mother, former MP for the area Diane Seukeran, accompanied him and voted at the same polling station.

Al-Rawi said, “In my humble estimation, Mrs Persad-Bissessar is playing (sic) a handbook which we have seen in other jurisdictions — threatened that the result would be overturned by litigation, threatened that there’s corruption, threatened that people have conflicts of interests, threatened, threatened, threatened – threatened is her style of action.

“I don’t really take Mrs Persad-Bissessar seriously in anything she says. Everything she had ever said from an elections perspective, from 2015 when we had the election petitions, has turned out to be rubbish.”

On the voting process, he said he had been voting at that polling station since he was 18.

Al-Rawi added, “It is as smooth as when I was 18, when my grandfather (the late former MP Lionel Seukeran) took me to cast my first vote and told me that people died for the right to vote and that I must take democracy seriously. It is my pleasure to take my mother’s hand and walk with her to vote.”

When he voted, 165 other people had voted at that polling station. Like Persad-Bissessar, he anticipated the turnout would be bigger later in the day.