Trinidad and Tobago Elections: The Absence of Observers
In light of the Trinidad and Tobago elections that will take place in a few days, I want to share my opinion.
BRIEF REPORT on ICDN ZOOM public meeting last Sunday night (2/8/20) on the topic –
“The absence of election observers in the August 10th election in Trinidad and Tobago:
Can the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) be trusted?”
The speakers were RALPH MARAJ, DR INDIRA RAMPERSAD and PROFESSOR SELWYN CUDJOE with DR BAYTORAM RAMHARACK substituting for RAVI DEV as the discussant.
MARAJ said that he was concerned about the absence of foreign observers, particularly the Commonwealth mission. He added: “Whilst we have a tradition of free and fair elections, there is no guarantee it will continue. We must always remain vigilant. … We are told that the Prime Minister received a letter from the Commonwealth stating they cannot afford to send a mission under our quarantine arrangements. But when asked to show the nation the letter, Rowley retorted, ‘I am showing nobody any letter. I am telling you the people, and I know you will accept that from a Prime Minister who always tells you the truth.’ The uneasiness has increased among many citizens as we approach polling day.”
DR RAMPERSAD emphasized the role and importance of foreign observers in light of the historical experience, the recent elections in Guyana, concerns in the Reports of previous Observer Missions and predictions that the results would be a close fight. She cited the judgement of Justice Dean Armorer in the Opposition UNC’s election petition against the EBC. The Judge ruled: “Accordingly, it is my view and I hold that the extension of the poll on the 7th September 2015 was illegal, and election officers who failed to close the poll at 6 p.m. acted in breach of Section 27(1) of the Election Rules.”
PROFESSOR CUDJOE agreed with all the speakers that observers are important in overseeing the election process, but did not see it as necessary. He argued that developed countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK do not have election observers. He said that it is part of a colonial legacy in which white people must be invited to oversee how black people are voting: “It is time to strike for our own freedom.” A member of the audience pointed out that CARICOM observers are nearly all black.
DR. RAMHARACK examined the role played by the many international and local missions in observing the March 2nd 2020 elections in Guyana. He noted that the three previous speakers were not averse to having observers in T&T’s election on August 10th. Ramharack argued that the presence of observers would add legitimacy and confidence in the election to ensure that it would be more democratic.
MODERATOR DR KUMAR MAHABIR’S COMMENT: Justice Dean Armorer ruled that the decision of the EBC to extend the voting time past 6 p.m. in the 2015 election was not lawful. Yet, neither Ms. Fern Narcis-Scope, then EBC’s Senior Legal Adviser nor any of EBC’s public officers, have been charged for violation of the law or misbehaviour in public office, or suspended or expelled from the EBC. Narcis-Scope will again preside over the August 10th 2020 election, this time as the Chief Election Officer (CEO).
The ZOOM public meeting was hosted by www.icdn.today
Dr. Kumar Mahabir, Coordinator & Moderator
Indo-Caribbean Diaspora News (ICDN)
Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean