For sure, Prime Minister Dr Rowley is correct to be preoccupied with the more immediate needs of the population in relation to covid19. However, while Rowley himself is “not concerned about the politics of the next election,” the State has a duty to make robust contingency plans in order to cover the many possibilities now thrown up by the tenuous environment.
It is already bad enough that under our Constitution there is an unhealthy dose of uncertainty with regard to when elections are to be held. The law places the election date in the back-pocket of whoever sits in Whitehall. The last prime minister entered office pledging fixed terms.
Notwithstanding the work of a constitution reform commission, that promise was never delivered, though Kamla Persad-Bissessar set a precedent by letting her administration run its full course of exactly five years. There is no legal obligation on the current Prime Minister to follow suit.
The Constitution makes plain, the timetable for elections is only varied during periods when TT is at war or if an emergency arises after the dissolution of Parliament, the Government can temporarily recall it before it is once more dissolved pending an election.
However, the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic posits the need for consideration of whether there is cause for special reform of the law to allow delay of an election in extraordinary circumstances. Such a measure, given its gravity, would definitely require non-partisan support in spirit if not in law, if it were to be accepted.
For now, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has a duty to do several things. It must begin planning for the possibility of having to conduct an election during a period in which social distancing is de rigueur.
This means re-envisioning how polling stations work; the role of special, mail-in ballots; and the need for funding variations to cover re-training and logistical changes. The EBC, thus, needs to conduct an urgent review and formulate a list of recommendations to forward to the Executive as soon as possible.
It should also give its views publicly on how best, if it ever comes to it, amendment of the election timeline could be affected. In a situation in which the fate of the general election is a legitimate cause for concern, we must show maturity and openness. Or else we would have learned nothing from the deadly violence that broke out in the racial electoral politics of Guyana mere days ago.
Therefore, we condemn, in the strongest possible terms, those who would, amid all the terror of the covid19 situation, seek to fan the flames of divisive politics, whether directly or indirectly in the guise of selective partisan attacks. Such fanning has been happening on both sides of the political divide. It must stop, especially given the biological, economic, and political sensitivities we face