Trinidad and Tobago's 2015 general elections may be over, but the drama certainly isn't.
Late yesterday, after the country's new Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, and the new Attorney General and Minister of National Security were sworn in—and sworn in again thanks to an error in protocol—the outgoing People's Partnership (PP) government filed a petition with the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to declare the September 7 elections null and void. The grounds for the unprecedented request: the EBC's decision to extend the voting period in Trinidad by one hour because of torrential rains that caused widespread flooding and traffic.
LoopTT reported that:
The PP says information and data received by the party ‘strongly suggested’ that the PP was comfortably ahead in the polls at 6pm on the day of the general election. They say ‘the march to victory (was) adversely affected by the sudden unilateral decision by the EBC to extend hours of the poll from 6pm to 7pm.’
That information alone set netizens off. Facebook users expressed asked how the PP were able to ascertain that they had a comfortable lead at 6 p.m., when the only ballots that could possibly be counted at that hour were the ones in Tobago, where the polls did close at the usual hour. (The People's Partnership were not even close to securing a seat in Tobago). Loop continued:
The release states that the EBC cannot and should not change the rules of engagement without giving proper notice to candidates, political parties and voters.
But that argument was already disproved by the PP themselves, since they, in contradiction of the spirit of the law that rules against solicitation of voters on election day, sent out email notices to voters about the extension of voting hours.
People expressed both anger and puzzlement, wondering whether the move was just a case of sour grapes or whether the outgoing government was actively trying to destabilise the country. One Facebook user, Jason Hagley, alluding to the corruption allegations that have plagued the People's Partnership, quipped:
Ok, I think if I feared making a jail in a few months and there was a chance to live free for another five years, I would probably take it.
5 years free beats 5 months waiting to make a jail.
I understand it now.
The EBC, of course, issued a formal response to the PP's petition:
Section 71 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago which establishes the Elections and Boundaries Commission, also mandates its autonomy over the registration of voters and the conduct of elections in every constituency. Additionally, the constitution allows the Commission to exercise their powers in an unfettered manner. Therefore, the decision to extend the hours of the poll finds its basis within the constitutional supervisory jurisdiction of the Commission in all election management matters.
However, many found the unofficial EBC response, courtesy the satirical website The Late O'Clock News, much more appropriate:
Official Release from the EBC in response to the PP's petition. pic.twitter.com/PWZ1ZuuV8Z
— TheLate O'Clock News (@lateoclock_news) September 9, 2015
From Twitter to Facebook, netizens just couldn't hold back their disdain:
Kamla gone from being the annoying ex that wont accept that it's over, to the scary kinda unhinged ex that make you sleep with a 3 line.
— Ayanna Gillian Lloyd (@AyaRoots) September 10, 2015
Facebook user Dion Boucaud recalled that Persad-Bissessar was singing a different tune when she won elections five years ago:
The Voice of the People is the voice of God! I remember that singular declaration being shouted by an emotionally charged Prime Minister elect in 2010 as she gave her triumphant victory speech to a nation that had just voted out the PNM over serious allegations of corruption. No one challenged the results, no one posted racial slurs, the country moved on. Five years later, it appears that the ‘Voice’ only refers apparently to a certain people. It is strange though, because it's the same PEOPLE who removed you for serious allegations of corruption. So listen to OUR VOICE and let the COUNTRY move on. WE HAVE SPOKEN AND NO ONE SHALL CHALLENGE THAT!
Rhoda Bharath asked:
The UNC is a govt that gave us an illegal SoE
Section 34 and the Run Off Bill.
You really surprised that they would challenge the election results?
When has democracy and rule of law meant anything to them?
In fact, how are we sure the breached protocol at the swearing in wasnt deliberate?
Folks, expect organised protests in UNC strongholds and in front of the Parliament from the UNC support base.
Yes…the same folks who supported and illegal SoE and S34 will now be protesting a legally elwcted government.
Many felt they should have seen this coming, after Persad-Bissessar's ungracious concession speech and all that went with it—including her telling her support base that her party had won the popular vote when the EBC still has not released final voter turnout figures — and her refusal to be driven home in her official vehicle after her government's defeat. At first, it was reported that the state car broke down; later information confirmed that Persad-Bissessar snubbed the prime ministerial detail:
Special Branch source says outgoing PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar refused security detail last night; says official vehicle didn't break down.
— Sampson Nanton (@samnanton) September 8, 2015
Outgoing PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar has confirmed that she told Special Branch that they could leave because she had ‘other transport’.
— Sampson Nanton (@samnanton) September 9, 2015
Subsequent to the whole debacle, there was tremendous online support for the EBC and their position that Monday's election results were legitimate:
— Impact on Governance (@IOGTTProject) October 21, 2013
The remaining members of Trinidad and Tobago's new Cabinet are scheduled to be sworn in tomorrow.
UPDATE: Subsequent to the publishing of this post, the Elections and Boundaries Commission released the voting figures for the 2015 general election and contrary to what Mrs. Persad-Bissessar claimed, her party did not win the popular vote.