WHATEVER the outcome — and by this we include the final tally, the results of any recounts and whatever legal determinations are made if there is court action — it is clear there was room for improvement in relation to the election process for leadership of the Tobago wing of the PNM.
The PNM is one of the country’s long-standing political parties and, as such, there was hope that the adoption of a one-person-one-vote system for all positions on its Tobago Council would have represented a watershed moment. In a sign that the parties involved also regarded the stakes as high, the campaigning leading up to Sunday’s voting was healthy, attracting a robust array of candidates and slates, and even featuring, perhaps unusually for an internal poll, advertising campaigns in the national press.
How times have changed. Perhaps this was not surprising given how vigorous recent Tobago House of Assembly elections have been, as well as the fact that the Tobago seats could hold the key to the upcoming general election. And yet, despite all of this, things have not appeared to go according to plan.
The long delay from the close of polls on Sunday to the counting of ballots is deeply disappointing. At the very least, the delay has belied an inability to deal with the turnout and to process votes in a timely and efficient manner. It has served to gratuitously raise questions about the integrity of the overall process given the awkwardly managed custody chain of ballot boxes, sealed or otherwise.
During the course of Sunday, all candidates spoke of a “smooth” process. However, by the time the ink dried, a troubling litany of complaints emerged.
In addition to the delays, reports indicated that names appeared twice on the voting list. Some alleged presiding officers were giving wrong advice in relation to the filling out of ballots. One candidate questioned whether ink should have been used to stain fingers, another said ink has never been used before. This confusion compounds our displeasure.
By some estimates, the election involved 10,000 voters, about a dozen polling stations, 17 positions, and about 45 candidates. That is by no means a simple operation to manage. But proper and effective systems should have been devised. While the first time doing something will always involve trial and error, the electorate today demands better.
Meanwhile, there was a worrying lack of transparency about campaign financing. When asked how much their campaign cost, one candidate told the media, “You think I would tell you that?” It is a matter of deep regret that in an election year we are yet to have long-promised campaign finance reform. We can do better.