TOMORROW'S observance of the International Day of Democracy comes at a time when democracies all over the world are facing challenges.
That there is a need to strengthen democratic resilience in the face of future crises has been brought home by the covid19 pandemic as well as perennial issues relating to the integrity of election systems, voter suppression and gerrymandering. Name a democracy anywhere in the world and it is likely you will find an ongoing debate about some or all of these issues in the current moment.
TT is no exception. The Parliament meets tomorrow to debate a report from our election authority, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), which sets out new boundaries for the upcoming election to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), which is to have, for the first time, 15 districts.
The EBC, which has acted because of legislative intervention brought to bear on the six-six deadlock at the THA, sets out in detail at the start of its report its robust methodology for how it came to draw up new boundaries under the requirements of the law.
But that has not stopped politicians from asking questions about this process, given the arguable impact these changes might have on future THA elections, given available data.
EBC reports are routinely treated with circumspection within Parliament due to the sensitivity and obvious importance of the functions performed by the EBC.
Equally, it is vital that officials address all questions raised, whatever their merit, transparently and comprehensively, given the need for continued confidence in the workings of our democratic processes at a moment when the country is deeply divided.
According to the EBC’s final report on the August 2020 general election, 322,180 people voted for the ruling PNM and 309,654 people voted for the Opposition UNC (a further 25,058 people also voted, but for independents or smaller parties.) More than half the electorate, of 58 per cent, voted, notwithstanding the difficult circumstances.
In its review of the election, the EBC confessed to there being “long lines at polling stations due to the public health physical distancing requirements” introduced to safeguard voters, but said everyone wishing to exercise their franchise was able to do so.
Still, the delays which affected some polling stations on election day should not recur, given how such delays can effectively frustrate the process if they persist over time. (The achievement of herd immunity would, in no small measure, reduce some of the pressure on the EBC and voters.)
With the election date for the next THA poll still looming, tomorrow’s debate is an opportunity for officials to address whatever concerns are raised and to set the right tone ahead of the upcoming Tobago poll.