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UNC Political Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar shows her finger after casting her ballot, in the UNC’s internal elections at the Parvati Girls Hindu College, Debe.

Gail Alexander

Incumbent United National Congress (UNC) leader Kamla Persad- Bissessar last night claimed victory in the UNC’s internal polls, saying there was a clear trend that her Star slate was going to win when the official results come in.

Her leadership challenger Vasant Bharath conceded shortly after she spoke saying, “Members of United National Congress have voted in the National Executive election, and the Lotus Team accepts their decision.

We congratulate the Star Team of candidates, led by incumbent Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and wish them all success during their term of office.

We offer to be of assistance in the urgent and extensive exercise of rebuilding and renewing the UNC. “

Bharath however strongly slammed a number of irregularities which he claimed occurred in the election.

Persad-Bissessar spoke around 9.30 pm last night when the majority of votes coming in from polling stations around T&T showed her slate was ahead of Bharath’s Team Lotus slate.

UNC election management team chairman Ramesh Persad-Maharaj told Guardian Media the trend last night was that the Star slate was the winner.

Persad-Maharaj declared the first position for the Star slate around 7.30 pm.

Star candidate Bheemal Ramlogan won the post of Tobago regional co-ordinator with 13 votes.

Lotus team contestant for the same post, Barrington Thomas, polled two votes.

Approximately 120,000 voters were eligible to vote at the 78 polling stations located in T&T’s 41 constituencies

No official voter turn-out figure was given last night. Up to 10 pm, Persad- Maharaj said there had been a reasonable voter turnout.

Speaking last night, Persad–Bissesar said her team would be monitoring proceedings until the wee hours of today, “But the trend is very, very clear that the Star team will win this election – a trend….but we must await the official final results from many of the stations.”

Persad- Bissessar said there had been some voter suppression due to COVID restrictions and there were some reports of voter intimidation at certain polling stations – but there hadn’t been major issues.

Persad- Bissessar said the way forward for the party under her leadership was to lead the party in going after the real political enemy, “The PNM Government..to take out! Take them out…!”

She said she’d focus on making the UNC stronger, staying focused and together and to continue to be united.

Persad Bissessar now remains in charge of the Opposition UNC for another three years until 2023.

Bharath in his speech, however added, “In acknowledging the announced results of the election, we note there were widespread irregularities, just as we had feared and to which we had alerted the national community.”

“Scores of people whose names were not on the revised list of electors were permitted to vote at several polling stations. Several lifetime members were debarred from exercising their franchise.

In one case, a veteran party operative – who had previously served as presiding officer in one of the houses of Parliament – brought in several non-financial members who were permitted to cast their ballots.”

“In some cases, prominent and active campaigners for the Star Team performed as election officers, including as Presiding Officers. Revised lists of electors were provided only to candidates and activists of the Star Team. There were many cases of voters being verbally abused, bullied and intimidated at polling stations.”

Bharath added, “At least two Members of Parliament were seen openly campaigning among members who were lined up to cast their votes. Paraphernalia of the Star Team were distributed within the precincts of some polling stations. It is most ironic that these gross abnormalities took place at the hands of an incumbent Political Leader who had lobbied for independent observers for the August 10 general election. “

“Further, the leader had declined to concede defeat in the general election and had claimed for several days that there were electoral irregularities.

For weeks before the election, Team Lotus had publicly complained about the absence of transparency and accountability in the electoral process. Our documented objections were never addressed. With the electoral process behind us, I urge all party members not to engage in recriminations.

He added, “Antagonism and reproach would only harm an organisation that requires the commitment and united purpose of all its human resources in order to displace the failed PNM at the next general election.

“I implore Mrs Persad-Bissessar to embrace and integrate all party supporters and sympathisers in the essential organisational restructuring that is required if the UNC is to become a viable political force.

A major initial assignment should be to determine why there is such apathy among members, as evidenced by the abysmally low voter turnout.”

Just before polls closed at 6 pm Bharath also wrote election team chairman Persad-Maharaj officially claiming of a number of matters demonstrated “manifest unfairness in the internal election process.”

In a statement earlier in the day, Persad-Bissesar had said

she expected her slate would emerge victorious “despite the petty games and underhanded tactics being utilised by opponents”.

Persad-Bissessar has helmed the UNC since January 24 2010. When she won that leadership election with 13,932 votes over UNC founder Basdeo Panday’s 1, 359 and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj’s 1,072 votes.

After her PP Government lost the 2015 general elections, she won UNC’s leadership with 17,502 votes against Bharath (1,305) and Dr Roodal Moonilal (1,821 ). After UNC’s modest improvement in 2016 Local Government polls, she won 2017 internals: 20,328 votes to Christine Newallo-Hosein’s 114 and Chanda Bhaggan’s 45.

VASANT’S COMPLAINTS

Vasant Bharath’s letter to the election team chairman added, “These matters are also evidence of your inability to manage an electoral process.”

He cited: “In Couva South, Moruga Tableland, and the Port-of-Spain cluster, persons whose names were not contained on the “final list” as specified in the rules were allowed to vote. We were informed that you personally made calls to the respective presiding officers and instructed them to “write-in names” on the list to allow these persons to vote.”

* Throughout all constituencies, voters complained about being harassed by electoral staff to “vote the Star” this includes both presiding officers and deputy presiding officers. This harassment also took the form of electoral officers actually being in close proximity of persons while voting. This is no doubt a result of the biased selection of electoral staff which you unilaterally appointed without any fair process.

* In Naparima there was no electoral ink for the start of voting. Further, a female senator was constantly giving instructions to the presiding officer on what to do during the electoral process which resulted in one of our candidates, Kamani Ramraj, being prohibited from entering the station.

* Several MPs and senators were allowed into the polling stations and were resident within the station for large parts of the day. In the case of one MP, she was seen taking in a list for the Presiding Officer.

* Numerous persons, who are lifetime members, were not allowed to vote despite presenting their membership card. This demonstrates clearly that the membership list was sanitized prior to the polling day.

At 330 pm, the presiding officer at the La Horquetta/ Talparo created a polling division and placed a new ballot box in a separate area of the station for the collection of votes. This resulted in Team Lotus having no representative to view this ballot box or determine how many votes were put into this ballot box. This action is highly improper and seems designed to ensure that ballots would be entered into the overall count without any form of scrutiny.

We are receiving further instructions on this matter and will continue to place the same on the record. Further particulars on these matters will also be provided.” (GA)

Victorious Star Team

POLITICAL LEADER – Kamla Persad-Bissessar

DEPUTY LEADERS – Dr Lackram Bodoe, David Lee, Jearlean John

CHAIRMAN – Devendranath Tancoo

VICE CHAIRMAN – Kadijah Ameen

EDUCATION OFFICER – Clifton De Coteau

PARTY ORGANISER – Ravi Ratiram

ELECTIONS OFFICER – Don Sylvester

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS OFFICER – Nicholas Morris

POLICY AND STRATEGY OFFICER – Sean Sobers

TREASURER – William Archie

RESEARCH OFFICER – Monifa Andrews

SOUTH REGIONAL CO-ORDINATOR – Shanty Boodram

NORTH WEST REGIONAL CO-ORDINATOR – Eli Zakour

CENTRAL REGIONAL CO-ORDINATOR – Imam Rasheed Karim

NORTH EAST REGIONAL CO-ORDINATOR – Neil Gosine