Go out and exercise your right to vote – it’s safe!
This was last night’s declaration from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) chairman Mark Ramkerrysingh, ahead of the start of today’s General Election voting.
This begins at 6 am with long lines expected at polling stations. Political parties ceased campaigning and politicking at midnight.
Today’s poll, T&T’s 18th general election, is an historic event, occurring amid a second COVID wave. There was a total of 279 cases up to yesterday.
Ramkerrysingh’s launchpad address focused on guidelines concerning the pandemic. He said the EBC consulted with organisations to ensure the process is simple and complies with all possible health guidelines.
The EBC chief urged voters to check their poll cards to ensure where they will vote.
The EBC had to change some polling stations to allow for larger compounds to accommodate the expected long lines caused by COVID-19 physical distancing protocols.
Those who didn’t get a poll card can check online or call EBC’s hotlines.
He also urged voters to go and vote early. Once people are still in line on a polling station’s compound when polls close at 6 pm, they’re still entitled to vote.
Ramkerrysingh advised voters to wear a mask, utilise physical distancing and sanitise before dipping a finger in the electoral ink.
Citizens who are more vulnerable should also inform the Presiding Officer of their condition and arrangements will be made for them.
He also advised supporters not to push the boundaries followed by presiding officers and police.
“Once you do so the process will be quick,” he said.
“The EBC has a long proud history in the conduct of polls and Monday will be no different,” Ramkerrysingh added.
There are 2,200 polling stations over the 41 constituencies. Voting ends at 6 pm.
The electorate stands at 1,134,136 - an increase from 2015 general election electorate which was 1,082,279.
Special voting for some 21,565 special electors concluded at 3 pm yesterday.
Police Commissioner Gary Griffth said police will be out in force today and tonight - when results begin to emerge - to ensure the exercise goes smoothly.
Special watch will be on for breach of COVID-regulations at bars and around party head offices.
The PNM, which held office for the last five years with 23 seats, is targetting between 23 and 25 seats. The UNC aims to increase its 18 seats of the last term to 25 also. There are 41 seats in total.
A trend in results is expected to develop from 9.30 pm.
The EBC will deliver preliminary results later, after the poll.
Yesterday’s final contingencies by parties for today’s ground game included catering for the weather.
Last week weekend’s Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) placed a temporary damper on last Saturday’s motorcades by parties, and also some wrap-ups yesterday by the UNC in south-west areas.
Scattered showers are projected for today also. (See page 6)
Some PNM candidates
voted last week
PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley - who recently dubbed today’s event a “Pandemic Election” - yesterday expressed concern at lack of adherence to COVID protocols during weekend motorcades.
He votes in Westmoorings this morning.
PNM officials said election results will be monitored from this evening at Balisier House - but due to the COVID pandemic, they were asking supporters not to congregate there.
Several PNM candidates voted last week as special electors.
The PNM’s Moruga campaign team confirmed candidate Winston Peters voted as a special elector. The party also subsequently confirmed some candidates voted recently as special electors, but didn’t state who.
UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar votes at the Hermitage Presbyterian school between 10 and 11 am, aides said.
This evening Persad-Bissessar is expected to be at her Siparia constituency office monitoring results.
UNC officials said results will be monitored by the party at the Couva Multi-Purpose Hall.
Among the UNC’s candidates, Sean Sobers (San Fernando West) votes at Mon Repos RC School by 6.30 am, Saddam Hosein (Barataria/San Juan) at 10 am at Warrenville Presbyterian School. Barry Padarath (Princes Town) votes 8 am at the Couva Anglican School. Dr Roodal Moonilal (Oropouche East) votes at 10.30 am at the Gulf View Community Centre.
More contestants than 2015
In 2015, when the PNM won, a total of 127 candidates contested that election for 17 political parties, with five people running as independents.
Today’s election shares the fight among 150 candidates from 19 parties and five Independent contestants. The PNM alone is fielding a full slate of 41 candidates. The UNC is contesting in Trinidad’s 39 seats.
All eyes are on the battleground constituencies of PNM-held Moruga/Tableland, La Horquetta/Talparo, Tobago East, San Fernando West and St Joseph.
Also, on UNC-held Chaguanas East and Barataria/San Juan.
In the PNM ‘s manifesto, presented a week before the polls, the party campaigned on a Recovery Roadmap Plan to take T&T out of the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
The UNC presented an Economic Transformation Plan presented in the 2020 Budget debate last October and has reworked it to cover COVID issues, adding further aspects on COVID. The UNC made a unity call to others also.
The MSJ, PEP and other parties have also produced packages.
While platform contributions have been fiery, the campaign in the COVID-restricted environment has been peaceful. But there will be no international observers for the poll despite Opposition calls for this.
Attention today will be on parties’ ground game and voter turnout, the latter, especially in view of the COVID restrictions.
In the 2015 general election, the electorate was 1,082,279.
Voter turnout then was 67.27 per cent. Total votes cast were 734, 792. The PNM won 23 seats with 378,447 votes.
The UNC which got 290,066 votes won 18 seats including a COP seat in St Augustine.
Today’s election is operating with EBC boundary changes in 12 of the 41 constituencies.
Two polling divisions were transferred from Couva North to Couva South. Three Toco/Sangre Grande polling divisions went into Cumuto/Manzanilla. One Laventille West polling division went to Laventille East.
Two Port-of-Spain South polling divisions went into Port-of-Spain North and one polling division to Laventille West.
Two polling divisions were transferred from San Fernando East to San Fernando West. One Oropouche East polling division was placed in Oropouche West.
The EBC hired 13,000 people to assist with the poll.
Police watching bars, party head offices
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said police will be watching for breaches of COVID regulations as well as election rules.
He said, “Citizens need to be made reminded to keep 100 yards from polling stations if they’re not going to vote. We’ll also ensure there’s no voter intimidation or anyone trying to persuade/canvass voters,” he said.
“Our radar also focused on certain parts of T&T. In the last Local Government Election acts of criminality were being perpetrated in certain areas. We aim to ensure there’s no repeat. Overall, our work doesn’t stop at 6 pm, it may just begin then actually when results start arriving.”
“We’ll be on alert for any excesses of celebration or disappointment in and around watering holes and parties’ offices, which may violate laws or COVID regulations.”
He noted last week’s shut down of several bars.
• The People’s National Movement 41
• The United National Congress 39
• The Progressive Empowerment Party 28
• The Trinidad Humanity Campaign 7
• The New National Vision 6
• The Movement for Social Justice 5
• The Congress of the People 4
• The Movement for National Development 3
• The Progressive Democratic Patriots 2
• The National Coalition for Transformation 2
• The Progressive Party 1
• The Independent Liberal Party 1
• The Democratic Party of Trinidad and Tobago 1
• The Nationwide Organization of We the People 1
• The Unrepresented Peoples Party 1
• The Trinidad and Tobago Democratic Front 1
• The National Party 1
• One Tobago Voice 1
• Five Independent candidates - presenting in Chaguanas East, Moruga/Tableland St. Joseph and two in Tobago West.