POLITICAL spoils were shared in yesterday’s by-elections in Barataria and Belmont East. The Opposition United National Congress (UNC) wrested Barataria away from the People’s National Movement (PNM) while the PNM retained the Belmont East seat.
The third party in the race, the fledgling Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP) failed to make any significant gain in the two seats.
Preliminary results in Barataria saw the UNC receiving 1,933 votes while the PNM tallied 1,825 votes. The PEP got 65 votes. While victory in Barataria went down to the wire, in Belmont East, the PNM comfortably declared victory at 7.45 pm.
A festive mood engulfed Pelham Street in Belmont as months of campaigning ended with a decisive victory for the PNM in this district. Out of 796 votes, PNM candidate Nicole Young secured 594 votes, according to Port of Spain North/St Ann’s West MP Stuart Young who declared victory. The UNC’s Liana Babb-Gonzales got 151 votes while the PEP’s Felicia Holder got 51 votes.
Speaking shortly after 7 pm at the party’s Belmont headquarters, Young along with the victorious candidate were all smiles as they announced their victory. Despite the overwhelming response from voters, Young remarked that there was a generally low voter turnout and said the area also saw a slight increase in votes for the UNC than in previous elections.
UNC GOT INCREASE
“The UNC did get an increase in votes. We are very happy with these results and the work that was done by our Belmont team. Ms Young has indicated to me that she intends to work closely with the community especially its youth in bringing about more meaningful, long-term change. But I warn her not to make too many promises as we move forward,” Young said jokingly.
For her part, councillor-elect Young said she was overwhelmed with the support from her community and despite the constituency’s history as being traditionally PNM, she believed her platform and campaign strategies earned her the nod of many undecided voters. She vowed to continue the legacy of predecessor, the late Darryl Rajpaul.
“I know that he (Rajpaul) was very proactive with youths in the area as far as sports and other community initiatives are concerned. During my tenure as councillor I intend to adopt a similar approach by making internships and other employment opportunities available to youths through the different opportunities we have available through the government.”
Young also said among her priorities was a more efficient system for the removal of garbage in the community especially in light of recent reports of flash flooding in parts of East Port of Spain.
PNM PAID NO ONE
Speaking to supporters outside the PNM’s Belmont office, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley declared, “They say how you campaign is how you govern and this young lady campaigned with decency, with integrity and with the support of a political party that the people of Belmont can trust.”
He told supporters, “We spoke truth to you. So you know what was said to you before the election, during the campaign, will be sustained after the election.”
The PM declared, “We also paid no person on polling day to vote for any particular symbol. Every single vote that was cast for Nicole Young and the PNM today, was a vote that was cast without inducement.” Declaring the PNM was prepared to stand by its decisions and accept the will of the people, Dr Rowley said, “As it was in the beginning, so it shall be now.”
Saying he was heading to Barataria where there was a close fight, Dr Rowley said, “We will accept the will of the people up there but whatever happens up there, there is a PNM grouping, a PNM party, the PNM points and programmes up there.”
ALL IS NOT LOST
Late in the evening, when the results were clear that the party had lost, Rowley conceded defeat in Barataria but assured supporters that all was not lost. He said the PNM still holds the majority of seats in the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation. The PNM’s 11 seats there are now reduced to ten. The UNC’s seats in the corporation have now increased from two to three seats.
PNM Barataria candidate Kimberly Small said this was not the end of politics for her. Small said she will continue to work the ground in preparation for next year’s local government elections. Up to press time, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had not given a victory speech to UNC supporters in Barataria.
UNC public relations officer Anita Haynes said, “What we did in those two seats were a test of our election machinery. We assessed our field capabilities.” Haynes continued, “We had boots on the ground. We were ready for Barataria.” She predicted the UNC would be “more than ready” for the 2020 general elections.
Babb-Gonzales and PEP Barataria candidate Christoph Samlal did not vote in their respective districts because they were not registered to so do. Voting in Belmont East and Barataria was reported to be slow and steady early during the morning, with larger numbers of voters turning out in the evening.
Throughout the day, the three political parties made claims and counter-claims against each other. The PNM said there were, “Lots of issues with UNC behaviour, including people in UNC t-shirts going into polling stations and police intervening.” The PNM also said, “We had PEP people attempting to canvas voters in polling stations.”
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PEP GOES TO EBC
The UNC claimed, “Some of our people are being told their names aren’t on the list.” The UNC also alleged to have photos of PNM personnel canvassing in front of a polling station in Belmont. The PEP said it will be writing the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) over what it claimed were violations of election rules by both the PNM and UNC. A statement from the party said advertising paraphernalia from the PNM and UNC were placed in close proximity to polling stations.
PEP leader Phillip Edward Alexander said the party wants the EBC to launch an immediate investigation into this matter for which the party will be consulting its attorneys.
According to the EBC, 3,237 people were registered to vote in Belmont East while in Barataria, 10,2017 were eligible to vote. There were five polling stations in Belmont East and eight in Barataria. On June 6, Rowley advised President Paula Mae-Weekes that by-elections for Barataria and Belmont East be held yesterday.
These seats became vacant due to the deaths of PNM councillors Pernell Bruno (July 8, 2017) and Darryl Rajpaul (November 18, 2017), in Barataria and Belmont East respectively.
(Additional reporting by
JULIEN NEAVES and