WE VOTE TODAY
By SEAN DOUGLAS Monday, October 21 2013
OVER one million persons are registered to vote in today’s Local Government Elections, says the latest voter’s list posted on the website of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC). About 400 candidates are vying for 136 seats in electoral districts across some 14 municipal corporations.
In the 2010 local elections, some 11 corporations were won by the People’s Partnership (PP) — now a coalition of the United National Congress (UNC), Congress of the People (COP) and National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), (plus the TOP in Tobago) - while the People’s National Movement had won three corporations.
In 2010 the PP won the councils in its traditional areas of Chaguanas (getting seven out of eight seats, to the PNM’s one seat), Siparia (getting six out of nine seats, to the PNM’s three seats), Princes Town (getting all nine seats), Penal/Debe (getting all nine seats), Mayaro/Rio Claro (getting all six seats) and Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo (getting all 13 seats), plus the councils it had newly won (from the PNM) in 2010, namely, Arima (getting six seats, to the PNM’s one seat), San Fernando (getting seven seats to the PNM’s two seats), Diego Martin (getting seven seats to the PNM’s three seats), Tunapuna/Piarco (getting 11 seats to the PNM’s four seats) and Sangre Grande (getting seven seats to the PNM’s one seat). The PNM holds Port-of-Spain (having eight seats to the PP’s four seats), Point Fortin (getting five seats to the PP’s one seat) and San Juan/Laventille (getting eight seats to the PP’s five seats). Several PP councillors at Piarco/Tunapuna, Sangre Grande and Chaguanas had since defected to the ILP.
Overall, last local elections, the PP had won 99 seats in all (including one by default) and the PNM had won 37 seats (including one by default), with none won by any third-party nor independent candidate. The 2010 local polls saw the political pendulum swing wildly from 2003 when the PNM had won nine out of 14 corporations. Since 2003, local polls had been postponed for each of three successive years by former prime minister Patrick Manning, until held in 2010 by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
This year most seats will see a three-way fight among the PP, PNM and Independent Liberal Party (ILP). However, the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is offering 16 candidates for seats in six corporations (Diego Martin, San Juan/Laventille, Tunapuna/Piarco, Chaguanas, Point Fortin and Siparia). A sprinkling of independent candidates are also running. Each party will be keen to see the effect of the largely three-way fight, compared to the usual two-way fight. Will the ILP be seen as more attractive to persons who usually vote PP, or those who usually back the PNM, or will the new party threaten both established parties equally, or in fact not poach from them at all?
Time will tell. What will also be interesting to see is to what extent this local election can actually grab the interest of voters to the extent of motivating them to vote? While the 2010 general election had an admirable voter-turnout of 70 percent (on par with the 2007 general election turnout of 66 percent), there is a traditional nosedive in voter interest in local polls. The 2010 local elections saw 390,000 persons vote out of some 998,809 registered voters, giving a measly turnout of just 39 percent. That 2010 disinterest at local-level was likewise reflected in the low turnouts for the local elections of 2003 when just 38 percent of the electorate voted, and of 1999 when just 39 percent voted, according to the EBC Report on the 2010 local elections.
While the main political parties have all been virtually treating these local elections as a dry-run for the 2015 general election, will all the razzmatazz of the campaign trail truly convince voters to turn out in greater numbers than the usual apathy seen at local polls, or not?
EBC chairman, Dr Norbert Masson, said the registered electorate of some 1,036,000 persons, would be assisted in voting today by some 10,000 EBC staff, plus 53 returning officers for the 136 electoral districts.
Dr Masson was due to give a pre-recorded, televised address to the nation at 7 pm last night, ahead of Election Day. Asked if he had any advice to the general public for today, he said, “I remember this particular exhortation, ‘vote wisely and vote well’. Simply that.”
He added, “This is certainly the nastiest campaign I’ve witnessed since I’ve been on the Elections and Boundaries Commission. People will make up their minds accordingly,” he said. “This is my view based on what I’m seeing in the past and what I’m seeing now. It’s a view shared by others. I’m seeing some things in the newspapers.”
Newsday asked how things were going? “All sorts of problems are cropping up at this point in time, for example getting ramps in place for person in wheelchairs. One or two glitches have occurred, and are being sorted out by the chief elections officer,” said Masson.
“It is one of the most hotly-contested local government elections. I await the results as keenly as you do.” He said the elections results would be hard to predict. Masson said, “An election is the largest logistical exercise that the country can engage in at any time. I’m hoping things will go well.” Asked if he expected the political parties to behave well today, he said the Representation of the People’s Act has so many rules that he wonders if these all are known by the parties and candidates, some who knew little about the nomination process.
An EBC statement yesterday said cellphones and cameras are banned from the voting booth, as they warned against electoral bribery and urged the general public to report any such incidents. “It has come to the attention of the Elections and Boundaries Commission that potential voters are allegedly being given ‘gifts’ of phone cards and are also being asked to furnish a photograph of their marked ballots to individuals in order to receive a reward,” said the EBC.
The Commission advised voters if they encounter anyone trying to use bribery to influence them or anyone they know to vote in a particular manner, this should be reported to the police.
“An individual found guilty of bribery or any corrupt practice is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $15,000 and to imprisonment for six months, or to a conviction on indictment of $30,000 and to imprisonment for 12 months,” said the statement.