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Timothy Thomas

With close to 800 active COVID-19 cases on the island, Tobagonians are concerned that there will be an explosion of cases after Monday’s Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.

Guardian Media spoke to several Tobagonians on Friday, who believe political campaigns have not been in keeping with the Public Health Regulation.

“I think some people are being carried away with the hype of it and the excitement so people not adhering to the distance and so on so I will give them about a 50 per cent. It could be much better,” Marcelle James said.

“Well, if it is people do not listen and do their own thing, obviously we will have an increase in COVID-19 but if people quarantine and do what they are supposed to do then we should be in a better place by next year so I am asking everybody to follow protocols so we could open up the place more,” said Nikesha Morrison.

Timothy Thomas said there have been large groups within the political campaigns.

“Due to the number of people in and out of the malls from various parties and the way how they situate themselves without their mask as well and some not even sanitising or washing their hands. I believe it will have a spike,” Thomas stated.

While political parties appear to be abiding by the regulations, chairman of the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour, Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, questioned what happens after meetings have ended and cameras are turned off.

“Have they been abiding by these social distancing requirements and so on after meetings and during their walkabouts and we’ve noticed that there have been some violations to that Public Health Regulation in terms of social distancing and so on,” Ragoonath noted.

“There is that concern that as we get into the final round of campaigning– we have seen it happen during the last election and we’ve seen it happen in various other elections—on the two last days of campaigning where everything breaks down, it’s party mode with motorcades and everything else that goes with it,” Ragoonath added.

Deputy Police Commissioner Mc Donald Jacob said there is increased manpower on the island for Monday’s election.

However, he urged political parties and their supporters to not throw caution to the wind.

“We are trying our best to avoid the police having to make arrests because of COVID so we are asking these persons to take into account that we are in a pandemic,” Jacob told Guardian Media.

He said following the incident on Nomination Day, which led to a clash between police officers and supporters of the People’s Democratic Patriots, there have been improved adherence by political parties.

“They were quite responsible in their approach and we look to them to continue in that day as we go along for the election day and then post-election so we just want them to keep that up. Yes, there were some issues in relation to Nomination Day but most of the campaigning was done in an organised manner even when they did the walkabout and things like that,” Jacob said.

Tobagonians said despite the COVID situation on the island, they are ready to go out and vote.

Meanwhile, Ragoonath reminded political parties of their responsibility to citizens to uphold the constitution and maintain the highest ethical standards.

He said the council has taken particular note of media reports which indicate that the Self Help Commission has been distributing grants in Tobago without its usual style of a ceremony or function.

“Now, we are not saying that they are doing anything illegal but what we are saying is the timing and mode in which it is being done and presents the perception that this is being done to persuade the electorate,” according to Dr Ragoonath.

He added, “There have been other types of reports coming out to us. For instance, people being bribed with private funds and all sorts of usages of private funds or personal funds to encourage and entice people to support one party or another and definitely is a breach”.

“Like in every contest, there will emerge winners and while the winners will celebrate, they should ensure that their victory celebrations are tempered so as to ensure that on the morning of December 7th, 2021, all citizens, winners as well as losers, will hold their heads high in consideration of a well fought election,” Ragoonath also said.