Trinidad & Tobago Opposition Party Wants President to Postpone General Elections


PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jul 31, CMC – The opposition People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) had sent a second letter to President Paula Mae Weeks urging her to reconsider her original position regarding the postponement of the August 10 general election because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The PEP, which is fielding 28 candidates in the general election – the third highest party – said that the head of state should reconsider her position given the recent spike in cases here, which now stands at 169.

In its letter, the PEP leader Phillip Alexander, said as many as eight new cases were reported by health authorities on Thursday.

“Your Excellency, in your response to our request for a postponement of the general elections currently underway, where we stated clearly that the elections will put our people’s lives at risk, you suggested that nothing much has changed since the proclamation of Legal Notice 34, but Your Excellency, today’s startling news alone should prompt you to again reconsider.

“If we fail in our duty to the stark realities before us, we risk putting masses of people in danger. We in the Progressive Empowerment Party take the step here of appealing your response and your decision and urge you to reconsider,” he wrote.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the government was not yet considering shutting down the country again as it had done in March and Prime Minister Dr. keith Rowley is to address a news conference later on Friday.

The PEP said that the reasons for postponing the elections “are that the very campaigning for the elections is itself creating a pathway for the exacerbation of community spread, but polling day will put the people to a risk since that proclamation was read unheralded in our history, where over a million people will be mobilised over the course of twelve hours to confined spaces that cannot physically be sanitised in the timeframe provided for an election, and will put them and every other person they come into contact with at risk.

“We appreciate your prompt response, and ask you again on the public record to reconsider.”

In her July 30 response to the PEP leader, the head of state said that his letter suggested he was well aware of the relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act by which any discretion exercised by the President is both guided and limited.

She said while the President is to be satisfied by one or more of the sections of section 34 (1), the initial step of postponing the election is to be undertaken by the Executive, as noted in the marginal note to that section, which reads “Government authorised to adjourn polling day in event of emergency.”

In addition, the President said any discretion to be exercised following the proclamation of an “outbreak of infectious disease” must be in the context of some dramatic and exponential change of circumstances since that time.

“While I am mindful of the increase in reported cases over the last few weeks, and the practices involved in campaigning and on polling day, nothing from the Ministry of Health, the Elections and Boundaries Commission, my own observation and assessment, or any other credible source informs me, that at this time, my discretion ought to be exercised in favour of postponing the general election. I of course remain vigilant and responsive to any significant changes in circumstances.”

Alexander said while he has taken note of President Weekes’ letter, she should have heard the Chief Medical officer indicate that “a lot has changed”. – CMC