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T&T election August 10

Saturday, July 04, 2020

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday announced August 10 as the date for the general election in Trinidad and Tobago, just under one month shy of the fifth anniversary when voters went to the polls on September 7, 2015 to elect his People's National Movement (PNM) to power.

The announcement by Rowley in the parliament came less than 24 hours after the PNM had issued a statement indicating that attorney Keith Scotland had been nominated to contest the Port of Spain South constituency in place of Olympian Cleopatra Borel, who was forced to withdraw after it became public that she was also a citizen of the United States.

Rowley told parliament that he had advised President Paula Mae Weekes “to dissolve this parliament at midnight tonight…[and] that nomination day will be Friday, July 17.

“I wish all my colleagues a safe, happy, enjoyable, productive campaign and I look forward to seeing all of them somewhere in Trinidad before the next parliament,” Rowley told legislators.

In the last general election Rowley led the PNM to a 23-18 victory over the then People's Partnership Administration of Kamla Persad Bissessar, but this time around Persad Bissessar is leading the main Opposition United National Congress (UNC) that had been the biggest partner in the coalition that had governed from 2010 to 2015.

The UNC had for several months been calling on Rowley to call an early general election, accusing his Administration of not being able to deal with crime, the economy and other perceived social ills in the dual-island republic.

But while the PNM has named candidates for all 41 seats, the UNC, which is contesting the 39 seats in Trinidad, has so far named 17 candidates.

Both the PNM and the UNC had shed most of the candidates who had contested the last election, with the PNM doing away with several government ministers and the UNC replacing many of its stalwarts.

UNC Chairman Peter Kanhai, speaking on radio here, said the party had been anticipating the general elections would have been held in August.

“We have been expecting an announcement to be made at any time and we had looked at the possible dates [of the] 9th [and] the 10th of August; [this] was one of those possible dates that we've been looking at, so we are not surprised by it,” Kanhai said.

Political analyst Dr Winford James said Prime Minister Rowley, by calling the general election, is seeking to take advantage of the popular sentiment that his Administration had done exceedingly well in managing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Eight people died as a result of the pandemic and more than 100 tested positive for the virus that has killed in excess of half a million people and infected nearly 11 million others worldwide.

“I think announcing August 10 was a smart move. It is a smart date having regard to several things. I think it was better to have the elections before the budget was determined,” James said.

“I think it was better for the prime minister to take advantage of the support from the public for the way he and his Government managed the coronavirus. I thought the economic news is going to be better now than later. So, for these three reasons I thought it was a smart thing,” James said.

The PNM will come up against the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) for the two seats it holds in Tobago.

Both parties have already named their candidates for the seats with the PNM going with incumbents, the minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office Ayanna Webster-Roy and Sports Minister Shamfa Cudjoe, while the PDP will rely on Tashia Grace Burris and its political leader Watson Duke, who is also the minority leader in the Tobago House of Assembly. Duke, a trade unionist, is the president of the Public Service Association.

“I wasn't surprised, we were telling core members to expect the elections in August. We expected this,” said PDP deputy political leader, Farley Augustine.

Rowley has given no indication as to whether or not the social distancing and other measures regarding the congregation of people as a means of curbing the COVID-19 spread will be lifted for the election.

Three other Caribbean Community countries, Guyana, St Kitts-Nevis and Suriname, recently held their elections and did not lift the curfew or other measures in place.

In the last general election there were 1,092,279 registered voters, with the turnout being just over 67 per cent.