T&T goes to the polls again

By Joel Julien

TWO elections in just over two months, that is what Trinidadians will experience today.

Just under one million eligible voters will get the opportunity to elect a councillor for their area during today's local government election.

Today's election comes on the heels of the general election on May 24.

The electorate for the local government election is "slightly less than one million" as opposed to 1,040,011 electors for the May general election, Norbert Masson, chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), said last night.

People comprising the electorate of Tobago are not involved in local government elections in Trinidad.

They vote in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.

"Simply phenomenal," was how Masson described the occurrence of the two elections in such a short space of time.

"To the best of my knowledge, Trinidad and Tobago has never before had parliamentary and local government elections in the same year. And to have the latter within such a short space of time of the other is simply phenomenal," Masson said.

There are 14 municipalities comprising two cities, three boroughs and nine regional corporations up for grabs today.

There are 134 electoral districts in all and a councillor has to be elected for each district.

The last time a local government election was held in the country was seven years ago

The People's National Movement (PNM) won by a landslide victory in the 2003 local government election, capturing nine of the 14 municipalities.

This time around, the People's Partnership hopes to turn the results in its favour, following the defeat of the PNM at the May 24 general election.

The People's Partnership won 29 of the 41 seats in the general election.

UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the country's first woman Prime Minister, and Finance Minister Winston Dookeran, the COP political leader, are leading the charge for the People's Partnership today.

The PNM is trying to rebrand itself.

The party is entering an election with a new political leader for the first time in 23 years.

Former prime minister Patrick Manning stepped down as the party's political leader after the May 24 defeat.

The PNM is entering the local government election under new leadership in the form of Dr Keith Rowley.

Statistics indicate that a large voter turnout is not expected in today's election.

"The records of the EBC show that traditionally there has been a considerably lower voter turnout for local government elections than for those at parliamentary level," Masson said.

At the 2003 local government election only 38 per cent of the electorate voted, and in 1999 the figure was 39 per cent, according to EBC figures, Masson said.

Some 70 per cent of the electorate voted during the May 24 general election.

"What is responsible for this wide disparity? Is it because the system of local government is perceived as a servile partner of an over-centralised and monolithic system of government," Masson said.

For the EBC, however, "the local government elections constitute a larger enterprise than their Parliamentary counterpart", Masson said.

The EBC is ready for the job at hand, according to Masson.

Voting starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.

There are almost 11,000 poll-day staff to man the 2,013 polling stations, Masson said.

Masson urged the electorate to come out and vote.

"The opportunity presented to you (today) as an elector gives you the power and authority to influence in a very direct way development of your community and by extension the country," Masson said.

Supporters of political parties cannot assemble within 91 metres of a polling station.

"Let us behave in a civilised manner with respect and courtesy to all," Masson said.

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