In Trinidad and Tobago, it is against the law to solicit votes on the day of a general election. Yet, it appears that online canvassing was taking place today, allegedly on behalf of the governing party.
The Facebook page Triniscene.com posted an image of a text message allegedly sent by a candidate for the ruling party that was being widely shared, along with the caption.
Concerned about the image's authenticity, Triniscene explained:
The message showed up by name directly, and not from an unsaved or unknown number. The screenshot appears to show ‘Bhoe Tewarie’ as the sender. When asked by Triniscene.com whether or not the recipient had Dr Tewarie's mobile number saved to their phone (which would in turn allow the name to show up as the sender) the recipient responded ‘Yes, I have his number saved.’
According to Triniscene:
The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has confirmed it has received reports from members of the public that they have been receiving text messages that appear to be campaign messages urging them to vote for the People's Partnership candidate for the respective constituency.
Speaking with Triniscene.com via telephone, an officer at the EBC who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed that the commission has received the reports and they are advising members of the public to report it to the police since the commission does not have investigative powers.
Screenshots of the same message were submitted to Triniscene all showing the receipt as around 6 a.m.
A representative at blink/bmobile, the service allegedly used to send the message, said the company would look into the matter and issue a response, explaining that a 5 digit code attached to the message would allow them to identify the sender.
Calls to the phone number of the candidate, Dr Bhoe Tewarie, went immediately to voicemail, and were not returned up to the time of this post.
Facebook user Rhoda Bharath was disgusted by the tactics:
Kamla not serious about facking life…midday today you still canvassing votes?
Another Facebook user, Tabatha Domonique Auguste posted photos of an email she received today from the ruling party:
So why? But this not legal tho. Desperate much? No Aunty Kams I haven't voted yet but I'm red and ready. Let's do this.
In a Facebook status update posted shortly before the polls closed at 7 p.m., Auguste uploaded another photo of an email message she received from “Team Kamla”:
This time, Auguste commented:
Dear Aunty Kams please stop harassing me with this illegal correspondence. It does not reflect your integrity or your honor nor your respect for my civil rights.
Facebook user Caroline Taylor was also deeply offended by the online canvassing, until a loophole was brought to her attention:
What are the consequences for breaking the international CAN-SPAM Act, and worse, the law prohibiting campaigning on Election Day? None? Emails and texts going out, and there are no consequences?! [UPDATE: the law apparently has not been revised to extend to social and other digital media…! *smh*]
And a tweet by one of the country's media houses confirmed that while the online action may not be technically unlawful, it opposes the spirit of the law:
EBC says digital campaigning not outlawed by Representation of the People Act, but its urging people to desist from electioneering #S6TT
— CCN TV6 (@tv6tnt) September 7, 2015
The polls have now closed in Trinidad and Tobago. As the results begin to be tallied, it remains to be seen whether this last-ditch online effort, allegedly undertaken by the governing party, will make any difference to whether or not the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration will return to office.