By JULIEN NEAVES Monday, June 30 2014
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Support for Carolyn: Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan had the support of former San Fernando Mayor Romesh Mootoo as they voted at ASJA Boys' College, San Fern...
This was the chant by a supporter after results that incumbent Congress of the People (COP) political leader Prakash Ramadhar had been re-elected, beating out three challengers in an election day dampened by an abysmal voter turn out.
Out of about 49,000 registered voters Ramadhar received 1,473 votes, more than 400 votes compared to close challenger COP Chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan at 1,028. The two other challengers, COP Deputy Political Leader Dr Lincoln Douglas and chairman of the Arouca/Maloney constituency group Rufus Foster, did not put up much of a challenge, receiving 162 and four votes respectively.
The voter percentage was just about 5.5 percent, amounting to 2,667 votes cast. Voting took place from 8 am to 4 pm and counting was done at the COP Operations Centre in Charlieville.
The results were announced yesterday at Gaston Court, Chaguanas by election committee chairman Nizam Mohammed. A screen displayed the results from the various polling stations. After a close race of just about 100 votes between them, Ramadhar pulled away from Seepersad- Bachan with the five last polling stations.
Mohammed explained though Foster had recently announced that he dropped out of the race to support Seepersad-Bachan the June 17 deadline had passed and he remained on the ballot.
Ramadhar was the first candidate to arrive at Gaston Court yesterday and was greeted with cheers and shouts from a handful of supporters in the car park. He was accompanied by his wife Jyanti and daughter Urvi.
In his victory speech he noted that they campaigned with honour and dignity despite all the negatives thrown at him.
“And it proves to me that my father was right when he said “when your heart is pure and your ambition is clean then you shall always succeed,” he said.
Ramadhar’s father, Siew Ramadhar, died on June 21 following a brief illness.
Questioned about the win with the passing of his father he said, “From my father, from the first memory of him, I’ve gained strength from him. And in his passing I know now a different responsibility has been placed on my shoulder to carry on the work and his values and I was strengthened in my resolve to continue and to come victorious in this election. This is what he would have wanted.”
He noted that when his father was cremated he had to participate in the COP election debate.
“I got the strength from him and my family and I am grateful to all of them,” he said.
He said his father was always very proud of him.
He told supporters that the work begins today as they were less than a year from a general election. He said the way forward was very clear and meant working within the People’s Partnership coalition while maintaining the COP’s individual voice and “strengthen their position in the Partnership”.
He noted that during the election he had received tremendous support from people outside the party and from this Saturday COP will resume their “street talk” and “street walk” programmes to build the membership base. He stressed that they were no longer unsure who is the leader of the party.
“Prakash is the man,” one supporter called out.
Later speaking with the media, Ramadhar said disenchantment had a part to play in the low voter turnout. He noted that this was because of uncertainty in the party and a small but very vocal group that daily called for the COP to leave the People’s Partnership and that “schizophrenia” must stop.
“And it troubled many of the bona-fide supporters ‘that listen man, get your act together’. Today we have gotten our act together and as we move forward now those dissonant noises we hope that they will become more harmonious and join us in this battle. If you are true to Trinidad and Tobago and the energies you used in criticising let us use that energy to build,” he said.
He said the party has spoken very clearly on the direction it wishes to take and the “ambiguity and the schizophrenia” of the last several years about whether the COP should leave the People’s Partnership “has distracted from the work of the party”.
“From today a new dynamic has set in. I am the unambiguous leader of the party. I’m not saying it in a boastful manner but really in terms of the discipline that is necessary, the election was critical to that,” he said.
He also said a lot of people expressed disappointment with the actions of some of the endorsers of the candidates.
“It broke the heart of many persons who felt a bit depressed because the things we had campaigned on for years they were not sure were happening,” he said.
On the election day itself he said the resources of the party have never been very great and one of the complaints was that the polling stations were too far apart; some voters had to travel up to 15 or 20 miles to vote. He asked at a meeting on Saturday that the next COP election must be electronic “so you don’t have to leave your homes to vote”.
“And I’m sure you will see a dramatic increase in the number of voters who will participate,” he said.
COP founder Winston Dookeran had endorsed Seepersad-Bachan in her bid for political leader and announced his desire to run for chairman later this year. Questioned what role Dookeran would play Ramadhar said the COP founder noted that he was “re-energised and revitalised”. He said he does not need “100 percent” from Dookeran but he would be grateful for a fraction of that of his participating in the party.
Seepersad-Bachanm the incumbent party chairman, told the media that the low voter turn out was “of deep concern to us in the party”.
“It tells us that there is a lot of work to be done. Mr Ramadhar sure has his work cut out for him in terms of the low voter turn out. It tells you the disenchantment, the disillusionment is a reality in our party. From a voting list of 40,000 people to where we are today,” she said.
She noted that they fought a good fight and people should not be disappointed as life always has its ups and downs.
“This is just the beginning,” she commented.
She thanked her supporters, family and friends for their support. She also thanked the other candidates, and said she remained committed to the principles of the party.
“We fought a good fight. We kept our campaign clean and consistent with the principles of the party,” she said.
On Ramadhar’s comments that he wants to reconstitute the COP National Executive Seepersad-Bachan pointed out that they must have an election before that can happen.
“But I have no problems with that. I know that Mr Ramadhar has always maintained that he wanted his own slate (and) for the National Executive to be able to support him,” she said.
Seepersad-Bachan noted that she believed there needed to be a new leader and a new direction for the party “but the membership of the party have spoken”.
Questioned whether she would be seeking re-election as chairman at the elections later this year Seepersad-Bachan said, “that I will take in due course. I will have some consideration on that”.
She noted that she ran a short and difficult campaign and she did not have the same resources as others.
“The odds were against us. The stakes were so high. There were too many other stakeholders involved in this particular election,” she said.
Dookeran has said he would have run for the chairman’s post if Seepersad-Bachan had been elected political leader.
Douglas in his speech congratulated Seepersad-Bachan for her commitment to the COP and the country’s politics and congratulated Ramadhar for his win.
“He is my friend and I want to encourage him,” he said.
Douglas also expressed concern about the low voter turn out and noted that a decrease of almost 50 percent was no victory for the party. He said this was a serious challenge for the COP and pledged to help rebuild the party.
A number of COP members were present yesterday including deputy chairman Nicole Dyer- Griffith and Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie. Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj also made an appearance. Ramadhar is Legal Affairs Minister, Seepersad-Bachan is Public Administration Minister and Douglas is Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism.
Elections for the other positions of the national executive are to be held on a date to be decided.