Renewing allegations of irregularities in UNC’s upcoming internal election, Vasant Bharath has yet again called for a free and fair voting process.
The former trade minister, who is vying for the leadership position, highlighted some of the concerns his slate, Team Lotus, hope are ironed out before the December 6 election.
At a media conference at Gaston Court in Chaguanas on Saturday, he blasted incumbent leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar as well as chairman of the internal election committee, Ramesh Persad Maharaj. He said a meeting scheduled for Friday was cancelled to 2 pm on Wednesday.
“This is bordering on dictatorship, bordering on a sense of bias that has been displayed by the election committee and the chairman in particular and does not auger well for how the party looks for the general population.”
He said in an e-mail, Maharaj referred to the issues the slate asked to have resolved were immaterial to his role and function.
“We want to pose the question, whether or not the membership lists are immaterial to the conduct of an election? Is it a material issue that members have been formed since August 11 and there is no general secretary instituted?” Bharath said. “It is immaterial that the integrity of ballots is not going to be important to the chairman or the conduct of an election?”
“If the above views are immaterial for the chairman, then it is Team Lotus’ views that that chairman and his committee are immaterial to the election process. It appears the election chairman is merely a puppet of the political directorate which has appointed him. He is solely a rubber stamp, and his role is essentially to give this election a facade of legitimacy.”
Bharath said it was only on Tuesday, his slate got the membership list. That list and no list are essentially the same, he said adding it did not have any useful information. There were no contact numbers and home and e-mail addresses. For that, he believes his slate is placed at a significant disadvantage.
He said his slate knows that the “proper list” exists, saying Persad-Bissessar and her members have been campaigning for the past few weeks. He accused her and her team of sending the membership e-mails, text messages, paraphernalia, and calling supporters individually, asking them to support her slate.
A major concern for Team Lotus is the appointment of electoral officers. Bharath said several constituency executives, councillors and MPs who have been coerced to sign letters of endorsement for the political leader and her slate.
“It is our attention that many of those same officers are likely to be participating in the election process. We cannot have a situation where a man could be tried and be his judge in that case,” Bharath told the media.
“We will be writing again to the election committee and the chairman indicating that we will be objecting to the appointment of people who have made any public declarations on behalf of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar and her team.”
Bharath and his slate have also asked for information on the location and storage of ballots. This request is an attempt not to have any unauthorised printing and distribution. He showed a copy of what he said was an unnumbered ballot and said if ballots like that were used they can be duplicated and triplicated and “all kinds of shenanigans can take place with this”.
He also spoke about the use of the party’s resources and platforms for campaigning.
“These are party resources; they belong to the party not the leader nor her slate. If the political leader is using it, we too should be given the same level of access to these resources.”
On the general secretary issue, Bharath said the position seemed to be vacant despite his slate’s best efforts to ascertain who the person is. “The constitution is very specific that any new membership formed by the party needs to be guided by a membership committee that shall contain the general secretary,” he said.
“So, if the general secretary does not exist or that position is not filled, it means that any membership formed since August 11 will be null and void.”
He said “thousands of members” have been formed since August 11 and his slate is yet to get information on the new membership.
He also called for observers, that is supporters and/or non-supporters external to the election process. He said the UNC rightly called for external observers to oversee the August 10 general election, yet the very same request is being denied when it comes to the party’s internal election.
Candidate for the chairman position, Larry Lalla said Persad-Bissessar and the MPs on her slate must accept it is hypocritical to sit in Parliament and in the name of democracy, demand justice and fairness for all. Yet, they seek to stifle democracy in the party by turning a blind eye to calls for a free and fair election, he said.
“The election committee appointed by the political leader and her national executive deny us the opportunity to have a representative on that committee to oversee the election and ensure that the election is not stolen.”
Lalla said the election could not be fair considering Team Lotus got a membership list with 100,000-plus members.
“How are we supposed to campaign when we have no way of contacting those who we are supposed to contact. We are forced to use old membership lists that we have from previous elections,” Lalla said.