Fazal Karim

Political parties are hustling! The ruling Peoples’ National Movement (PNM) and PNM and Opposition United National Congress (UNC) leapt into high election preparation gear on Saturday after the August 10 election date was announced last Friday. Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced the election date during the Parliament sitting. Parliament was dissolved at midnight.

Nomination day is July 17, giving parties only two weeks to finalise candidates. Their documents must be presented to the Election and Boundaries Commission officers in the 41 constituencies on Nomination Day.

The majority of the PNM’s 41 candidates have been campaigning since May when some of them were selected.

On Saturday, while PM Rowley attended the launch of the Point Fortin hospital, all 41 PNM campaign managers, information technology co-ordinators for the 41 seats and co-ordinators appointed for 18 constituencies held a three-hour meeting at the Government campus, Port-of-Spain. This was led by PNM campaign manager Rohan Sinanan and experts. The 18 co-ordinators are serving marginals and strongholds like POS South.

The PNM will launch its campaign via virtual platform next Sunday in Rowley’s Diego Martin area. Among the themes is a call to members “Coming Back Home.” Officials said the PNM’s thrust involves consolidating members’ support and ensuring their opportunity to vote apart from seeking other external support.

The spokesman said the launch will be done within COVID-19 restrictions which curtail gatherings to only 25. “This will be a different type of election,” they added.

UNC MPs out

The Opposition UNC, meanwhile, launches campaign and candidates on Sunday, ahead of the PNM.

Due to COVID regulations, UNC officials said the launch may be done virtually from UNC’s San Fernando office. UNC has been holding weekly virtual meetings.

The UNC, contesting only in 39 Trinidad seats, had selected 17 candidates when the election bell rang last Friday. Candidates were on walkabouts on Saturday.

UNC’s leadership spent Saturday at their San Fernando office finalising candidates for the other 22 seats, the party confirmed.

The 13 UNC incumbents who filed nominations to contest were also called to a 2 pm meeting at that office to be told if they were approved or not. The meeting was later shifted to 6 pm.

Those who did not seek nomination were MPs Suruj Rambachan, Tim Gopeesingh, Fuad Khan, Ganga Singh and Prakash Ramadhar. Their replacements were being finalised on Saturday night.

Incumbents attended the meeting included Bhoe Tewarie (Caroni Central), Christine Newallo-Hosein (Cumuto Manzanilla), Rudy Indarsingh (Couva South), Ramona Ramdial (Couva North), Fazal Karim (Chaguanas East), Roodal Moonilal (Oropouche East), Vidya Guyadeen-Gopeesingh (Oropouche West), Rushton Paray (Mayaro), Rodney Charles (Naparima), David Lee (Pointe-a-Pierre), Lackram Bodoe (Fyzabad). Those tipped to be returned included Lee, Paray and Bodoe.

But among those who were not selected it was learned last night were Ramdial and Karim who emerged from the meeting first. Ramdial in subdued tones declined comment when contacted later. Karim did not answer calls. Party officials also confirmed that Newallo-Hosein was asked to step down. At least three other incumbents were expected to be replaced.

Couva North nominees had included Ravi Ratiram. Chaguanas East nominees included Chaguanas Mayor Vandana Mohit who was tipped for the seat, and analyst Kirk Meighoo.

UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar recently defended seeking new faces and a new generation saying youth must not be left to stand as onlookers. To those not selected, she said there was a space and a place, as a mix of experience and fresh ideas were needed.

UNC Princes Town MP Barry Padarath, who is in Florida, was screened virtually. He said on Saturday that he received final exemption documents to complete from National Security. He expects to return this week but did not know if he was chosen. If not MP, he said there are other areas.

Padarath must be quarantined on return. Police said they want to interview him on return about an alleged $3 million issue and a person. He said he will co-operate with the request.

UNC only needs 3 seats to win

Within the 41 constituencies, election focus is targeted on a handful of PNM-held seats considered marginal: Moruga/Tableland, Tobago East, Toco/Sangre Grande, San Fernando West, St Joseph and Tunapuna.

Toco/Sangre Grande and San Fernando West are among 12 constituencies where polling divisions have been shifted by the EBC’s election draft order.

For the UNC to win, the party must obtain a minimum of three seats plus the 18 it currently holds, placing the spotlight on at least three constituencies­—particularly Moruga/Tableland, Tobago East and Toco/Sangre Grande.

In Moruga, UNC is targetting PNM’s candidate Winston Peters, a former UNC MP, replacing incumbent Lovell Francis. UNC improved its standing there in the 2019 Local Government elections. Peters is aided by former UNC Cumuto MP Collin Partap. Former PNM MP Peter Taylor said he was walking with UNC candidate Michelle Benjamin

In Toco/Sangre Grande, the UNC is pinning faith on its LG election improvements where it won the Sangre Grande corporation. UNC’s candidate Nabila Greene, an expected platform star with a story to tell, is contesting against PNM’s Roger Monroe, another newcomer who is working areas where PNM lapsed in LG polls. Three Toco polling divisions are being placed in Cumuto/Manzanilla.

In Tobago East, although UNC is not contesting there, party hopes are high for a PNM defeat by Watson Duke’s Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP). A UNC frontliner told Guardian Media last month that if PDP won and it was needed to help form the Government, talks would occur post-election.

Yesterday PDP’s Farley Augustine said the party launched in January expecting early polls and “change is hitting Tobago.” If PDP holds the balance of power, he said “We know trends are that whoever wins will do so marginally. We’re convinced PNM’s not good for Tobago but we’d speak to both parties, advancing an agenda. Whoever has the agenda most favouring Tobago—greater autonomy—we’ll go with that.’”

In San Fernando West, where UNC improved standing in LG polls and where PNM MP Faris Al-Rawi has been walking consistently, UNC’s Sean Sobers said his walkabouts have noted uncertainty about Government, even by PNM voters in some places.

“People seem more open to someone objective, relatable and bipartisan. I’ve gotten newfound respect for many in the community whose ability can be valuable if we give them support and equity,” he added. Two polling divisions from PNM-held San Fernando East are being placed in San Fernando West.

Beckles helping 4 seats

PNM’s Arima candidate Penny Beckles—out of quarantine—started walkabouts this week in Pinto, Aripo and Trainline. She also met Arima officials on vision and improvements. Yesterday Beckles walked with PNM’s La Horquetta/Talparo candidate Foster Cummings and attended an election office launch.

The party has confirmed Beckles was mandated to assist La Horquetta and PNM’s campaigns in Toco/Sangre Grande, Lopinot/Bon Air and D’Abadie/O’Meara. Beckles assisted PNM’s LG Toco/Sangre Grande campaign. When she was screened recently, her selection was announced by Rowley himself.

PNM’s Jason Williams is seeking to snatch Barataria/San Juan from UNC’s Saddam Hosein. PNM La Brea candidate Steve Mcletchie will begin walking this week, the executive said, adding moves to consolidate supporters were met “with good response…they understand it’s line up or be left behind.”

POS South candidate Keith Scotland—the final PNM candidate to be selected last Thursday—will hit the ground next week, POS South executive chairman Wendell Stephens said. Scotland on 102 radio said he had supported outgoing MP Marlene McDonald and has her support.

A COVID-strapped poll

With COVID-19 regulations in force, the election campaign, like the rest of T&T, will feature a new normal—no crowded public meetings and social distancing in place where events are held.

With the regulation debarring public gatherings over 25 people, huge outdoor meetings may not be held.

Politicians on both sides also said they recognised social distancing and masks will be part of the protocols for voters on election day.

The landscape will also be devoid of the usual post-meeting pastime of going to bars to “digest” statements since bars can only open up to 8 pm under regulations.

On Saturday the Election and Boundaries Commission’s 41 Returning Officers for the election were presented with their respective writs of election by Chief Election Officer Fern Narcis-Scope. The presentation was made at the end of a two-day EBC Training Session on July 3-4 in preparation for polls.