PNM, UNC share by-election wins

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar celebrates with Sarah Sookdeo, the winning candidate of Quinam/Morne Diablo by-election and others on Monday night at Sookdeo’s campaign office in Quinam/Morne Diablo. – Photo by Venessa Mohammed

AFTER weeks of campaigning, the PNM and UNC scored a clear victory each in two local government by-elections on June 17, which saw a higher voter turnout in the districts than the 2023 polls.

The PNM had a clear victory in Lengua/Indian Walk, with its candidate Autly Granthume defeating the UNC’s candidate Nicole Gopaul 2,083 to 1,336 votes.

There was no official information on the number of votes received by Peterson Morales, who contested as an independent candidate. Sources claimed Morales only received one vote.

In Quinam/Morne Diablo, the UNC’s Sara Sookdeo prevailed over the PNM’s Anderson Nanan by 2,239 to 971 votes.

The total number of eligible voters for both by-elections is 16,834. Lengua/Indian Walk has 8,465 eligible voters and Quinam/Morne Diablo 8,369.

In terms of special electors, the EBC said there are 72 in Lengua/Indian Walk and 61 for Quinam/Morne Diablo, a total of 133. Special electors, because of the nature of their jobs (such as members of the protective services), are unable to vote during the periods allotted for regular voters. Voting for special electors took place from June 12-14.

In Lengua/Indian Walk, the PNM officially declared victory in the district around 9.28 pm. Cheers of “Pastor Autly, Pastor Autly” filled the PNM camp in Indian Walk when Granthume was declared the winner.

Participating in the celebrations were Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi, former government minister Joan Yuille-Williams and former UNC Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Collin Partap, who is now a PNM member.

Speaking afterwards to the media, Al-Rawi refused to be drawn into speculation that the UNC’s internal elections on June 15 hampered its ability to win Lengua/Indian Walk. “That’s their business. We don’t comment on their business. We focus on our business of representing the people. God bless them all.”

Granthume was overjoyed at his victory.

PNM candidate for Legua/Indian Walk Autly Granthume is lifted by supporters as he celebrates the results of the local government by-election at his office in Princes Town on Monday night. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

“I feel proud. I feel great. I feel magnificent. I’m just joyful in my heart because of this victory and I know it’s not because of my might nor my power but because of Almighty God and the entire team that has been around me rallying for the past eight, nine months.”

He especially thanked Al-Rawi, Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon (who served as his campaign co-ordinator), other PNM MPs and senators and the residents of Lengua/Indian Walk for his victory.

“I am proud, proud of the PNM government who has found me fit to accept to serve in this capacity and certainly, I commit myself to represent them and to represent them proudly. Make them feel proud of all that I do and also to meet the needs of the residents and make them feel proud that they have chosen me to serve.”Granthume pledged to give the residents proper representation as their new councillor.

Asked if there were any issues with voting earlier in the day, Granthume said, “Sometimes we take little things to make big things. So in everything we do have hiccups at times.”

He thanked God that everything went smoothly at the end of the day.

Gopee-Scoon said Granthume’s election also means he will be joined at the Princes Town Regional Corporation (PTRC) by a PNM alderman, through the proportional representation system used for local government corporations.Granthume was not afraid of being in the company of the other nine UNC councillors in the PTRC.

“I know that I stand not by myself. First of all, the God of heaven who has chosen me is standing and will continue to stand with me.”He was confident that his supporters will continue to rally around him. Granthume was also confident that the government will continue to back him up.

Gopee-Scoon said the Prime Minister congratulated Granthume on his victory.

“Dr Rowley has sent his congratulations to the entire team.”

There was no immediate response to the UNC’s loss in Lengua/Indian Walk from Gopaul, Moruga/Tableland MP Michelle Benjamin or any other UNC official.

Addressing a PNM public meeting at the Fifth Company Baptist Primary School, Moruga on June 15, Rowley called on the electorate to take responsibility for the candidates they vote for in local government and general elections.

With specific reference to the Lengua/Indian Walk by-election, Rowley said, “You have a second chance. Most corporations don’t have a second chance for anybody, but here in Lengua/Indian Walk, you have a second chance to do right.”

At the end of the August 2023 local government elections, no winner was declared in Lengua/Indian Walk, which falls under the UNC-controlled PTRC. Overall, the PNM and UNC won seven corporations each in 2023.

The UNC filed a petition on August 21, 2023, after two recounts led to Granthume’s being announced the winner over Gopaul-Jones on election night, August 14.Granthume initially received 1,430 votes compared to Gopaul-Jones’s 1,425. At the end of the first recount, each candidate received 1,428 votes. The EBC returning officer rejected a special ballot in favour of Gopaul-Jones – which would have broken the tie.

At that time, the EBC said a by-election was needed to resolve the deadlock.

The UNC’s petition called for the rejected special ballot to be counted and Gopaul-Jones to be declared the winner. In March, the Court of Appeal dismissed the petition. They ruled the election rules under the Representation of the People Act allowed for the rejection of the special ballot.

This cleared the way for the by-election in Lengua/Indian Walk. Sources claimed Gopaul went to Penal after the results in Lengua/Indian Walk were declared on June 17.

However, this could not be confirmed by any UNC official.

The Quinam/Morne Diablo by-election was the result of a vacancy after the death of its UNC councillor Diptee Ramnath last December. Ramnath was also chairman of the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation (PDRC).

Speaking outside Sookdeo’s campaign office in Quinam/Morne Diablo around 8.16 pm, Opposition Leader and UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said, “The trend is clear. We gone clear. Landslide victory here tonight.”

She added that with the results of ten polling stations already in and results from six  outstanding, the UNC had retained full control of the PDRC with Sookdeo’s victory. “PDRC is the fortress of the UNC. The entire PDRC is yellow.”

Persad-Bissessar had no information about the results in Lengua/Indian Walk, but said the vote count was tight.

Speaking at her Siparia constituency office in Penal on June 15, after the Star slate won the UNC’s internal elections, Persad-Bissessar had said the party was mobilised to win both by-elections.

Sookdeo thanked her family, Persad-Bissessar and all UNC supporters for her victory. She said some people doubted she would win the district.

“I brought it home to Quinam/Morne Diablo. I showed them how fearless I am.”

Sookdeo said the win did not come as a surprise as all the necessary groundwork was done.

Speaking at the PNM’s camp in the district, Nanan was disappointed, but not disheartened. “I have to accept my defeat. This is what the people wanted.”

He added that while he wanted to uplift the people of Quinam/Morne Diablo, this does not seem to be what the majority wanted.

Nanan congratulated Sookdeo on her victory and said he was encouraged by the results even though he lost.

“I believe the total was 2,000 to 1,000. I didn’t expect it, but it happened.

“But at least I have 1,000 people, who I captured their heart. I will still be working with these people.”Preliminary results showed he received 971 votes.

Nanan added that he has a small business as well as his job as a work supervisor at the PDRC. Through these avenues, he promised to continue serving the people of Quinam/Morne Diablo.

Additional reporting by Rishard Khan and Laurel V Williams