AS he expressed confusion over what the Opposition wanted, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday dismissed any notion that the country will not have a free and fair general election, when constitutionally due.
He was responding to concerns raised in the Parliament by Chaguanas West MP Ganga Singh and Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial, when he quipped “an election for Christmas is always a good thing for Trinidad and Tobago”.
Members of Parliament were speaking in the House of Representatives during the Motion to Approve Draft Elections and Boundaries Commission Order 2020, when Singh questioned the feasibility of hosting a free and fair general election during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He had also asked how quickly campaign finance reform legislation could become law, and said this needed to be done before the next general election.
Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago will have an election when constitutionally due, and he pointed out that the stance taken by Singh differed from that of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who was calling for an election now.
Rowley cautioned Singh to ensure his positioning, lest he find himself on the “wrong end of the see-saw”, and said Persad-Bissessar wanted an election now to get back into government.
Singh had said the legislation did not prevent the prime minister from calling an early election, and noted that “martial” language used during the Covid-19 pandemic had international and local leaders, including Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, declaring “war” on the virus. Singh cited provisions in the Constitution allowing for the Government to extend itself up to five years under circumstances of war.
This did not apply here, Singh said, adding that the prime minister may also call an election beyond September 2020, up to December 23.
Having thanked national stakeholders, including the Government for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Singh drew reference to anti-Covid-19 measures, including physical distancing. He said a free and fair election requires upwards of 25,000 people on the ground.
He questioned whether it was feasible to conduct such an election and said based on the motion piloted by the prime minister, it was “clear we are in the path of an election”.
However, the prime minister stated, “We have taken no decision, no consideration of the postponement of any general election in Trinidad and Tobago.”
The prime minister noted Singh’s reference to the UNC’s court matter against the Elections and Boundaries Commission (which it lost) and during which costs were incurred.
Saying the UNC owed millions of dollars, Rowley called on the party to pay up and that the Government “intended to collect it from every single one of them”.
He said the UNC had gone to court, lost, claimed victory and now owed millions.
Rowley further disparaged Singh’s concerns as to the credibility of the EBC and responding to the issue raised by Singh, said the country’s chief elections officer was currently not part of the Caricom team in Guyana because following previous altruistic efforts in that area, matters on Guyana’s elections still ended up before the courts.
Rowley dismissed doubts related to the EBC over its extension of the voting times in five constituencies in the 2010 general election, saying the purpose of the EBC was to facilitate voting, not prevent it.
He said voting doesn’t stop at 6 p.m., and if there are 1,000 people in the yard to vote at that time, the last person is allowed to vote.
He went on to chide the UNC, saying: “When you go to court, you must go with clean hands.”
He said the country ought not to be closed off to discussions on increasing the number of constituencies, noting that Tobago at one time was a single constituency.
Some constituencies, including rural areas and the eastern coastline, were large and may benefit more from being represented by more people in Parliament, the Prime Minister said.