“Come out and meet your candidate.” Usually around this time with some months to go before a General Election, you’ll hear the ‘mike man’ letting you know that the person attempting to court your vote is in your area.
Normally folks in red and yellow jerseys would be calling at your gate to convince you to put the ‘x’ by their name. But there’s nothing normal about this time in our country and as a result, the election landscape will be different.
It might be easy to forget that a General Election is constitutionally due this year, December 22nd for the latest according to UWI Political Science Head Dr Bishnu Ragoonath. And the Elections and Boundaries Commission admitted that right now no fieldwork is being done but the staff at its Registration Area Offices has returned to work after the offices were closed for April. They will be working on a rostered basis.
When Guardian Media asked the EBC if there is a framework for what a ‘social distancing’ election would look like the EBC said, “This is the first time the world is facing this pandemic. There is no precedent on conducting an election under the prevailing circumstances, not in Trinidad, not anywhere. The EBC continues to assess the local environment.”
But there are some recent examples, on April 15, South Korea had its Parliamentary Elections which saw the highest voter turnout in 28 years. Social distancing was enforced in the lines outside polling stations, temperatures were checked on entry, hands had to be sanitised and those with a fever were provided with a special voting booth outside the venues. Meanwhile electronic and voting by mail are options for the primaries in the USA.
The EBC has said that electronic voting is not an option for the upcoming election.
“To migrate from a manual voting system to an electronic voting system is a very intensive process that cannot take place in the timeframe with which we have to operate,” said EBC’s corporate communications manager, Bobbi Rogers.
Dr Ragoonath goes a bit further.
“The Representation of the People’s Act gives us clear guidelines on how an election is supposed to be conducted, so I am not sure if we will go to the online voting or mailing votes or so forth, we cannot have those things, so we have to go with our laws permit and that’s working within the context of where the virus is.”
But before polling day, political parties may have to adapt their method of campaigning. Culturally this country has grown accustomed to a culture of contact from their candidates. And while Dr Ragoonath believes if the election is held in December there may be relaxed social distancing measures, the United National Congress has already retooled its approach.
“We are not engaged in the campaigning, the reaching out, touching hands, cottage meetings, we are not doing that. Our activists remain on the ground reaching out to people in need and providing help. So our activists are still on the ground, not campaigning but more so bringing relief,” said Dave Tancoo, the UNC’s General Secretary.
Tancoo said the UNC will use social media to relay its messages in the interim and while screening of candidates was suspended it is expected to resume soon via Zoom video conferencing. So far the party has selected four candidates.
Meanwhile, the People’s National Movement’s General Secretary Foster Cummings could not be reached for comment and party PRO Laurel Lezama Lee-Sing said the political leader has not yet named a campaign manager. She said the party had extended nominations to April 30 and will resume screening in due course.
But even with all of this uncertainty as to what the future holds, Dr Bishnu Ragoonath believes survival is priority number one. He like many others are waiting on what the economic recovery committee comes up with later this week.