PRIME MINISTER Dr Keith Rowley’s political platform statements over the weekend warning people against bribery when it comes to voting is a telling intervention, raising the prospect of unsavoury dealings tarnishing the integrity of electoral processes in this country.
We hope the warning is a general one and is not based on evidence of any specific instances that have surfaced. Certainly, the Prime Minister’s language was such that it is clear that he harbours concern for the integrity of voter processes to the extent that a public warning was deemed necessary.
“Anybody walking through this community offering you money to not vote, offering you money to not participate, offering you money to organise in criminal activities then you should know that your future does not lie with that,” Rowley said on Sunday at the PNM Sports and Family Day held at the La Horquetta Recreation Ground, La Horquetta Phase 6. “You should know that Trinidad and Tobago’s future lies with honesty in public office and that public officers must be made to be honest and accountable in TT.”
If anyone can point to evidence of such things occurring, they should report them to the law enforcement authorities. These are not matters to be taken lightly.
The conduct as outlined by the Prime Minister would constitute an offence under section 96 of the Representation of the People Act. It would also flagrantly violate the Code of Ethical Political Conduct, a code agreed to by most the political parties following lobbying by civil society and religious bodies.
Undoubtedly, the warning may have been voiced for political reasons. People are entitled to hold that view. However, in an era in which questions over the integrity of electoral processes have taken centre stage all over the world, it would be overly cavalier to dismiss Rowley’s actions outright as mere posturing.
Lingering concerns remain over interference in the US’s 2016 presidential elections and the UK’s Brexit vote. State actors have been driven to campaign for stronger protections and have turned the spotlight on matters such as gerrymandering and census citizenship data.
It would be statistically impossible to count how many people were paid off not to vote. Further, the impact of such a tactic would be difficult to predict absent any certain knowledge of the expected margin of victory or the impact of overall turnout on the likely result.
Yet while there are many reasons to be dubious, there are equally enough reasons to be concerned. Does TT have a culture of potential bribery when it comes to elections? Is this what our elected Prime Minister has tacitly acknowledged, even through indirect condemnation? We should all be worried. All of the political parties need to recommit, forthwith, to the code of conduct and the rule of law.