Last update: 18-Dec-2013 2:52 am
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Charges of ‘buying votes’ in today’s polls
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan says the People’s Partnership (PP) has received word that the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) is seeking to buy votes in today’s local government elections, a claim ILP leader Jack Warner vehemently denies. Speaking to the media yesterday outside the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) office in Port-of Spain, Ramlogan said the PP was informed that some voters were being provided with phone cards and advised to take a picture of their ballot while in the voting booth with an “X” for the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), and then present that photo immediately afterward, in order to receive some kind of reward. Ramlogan said the party’s concerns were raised as a result of a news article last week, in which it was reported that about $25,000 worth of phone cards originating from the Tru Valu supermarket in Valpark, were given to the ILP. “Within the last 48 hours we received similar word from supermarkets, apart from the Tru Value chain, that said that on a piecemeal basis, phone cards were being purchased in a surreptitious and piecemeal manner,” he said. “In light of that, there are many people on the ground who told us there was a plan and a potential conspiracy to distort and frustrate the democratic process.”
When asked how the PP was certain that it was ILP members purchasing the phone cards, Ramlogan said the original story pointed to the ILP, Banking Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) “immediately pointed a finger in the direction of the ILP,” and the ILP did not deny the story days after publication. According to a media release by the BIGWU last Thursday, on October 4 between 4.30 pm and 6 pm, instructions were given by an official of Tru Valu branch to issue $25,100 worth of phone cards to Warner’s campaign. Warner responded yesterday rejecting the allegations made by the PP. “Totally untrue, totally untrue, unfounded, baseless, totally untrue. We don’t have to do that to win this election. Or any election for that matter,” Warner said, speaking with reporters at Saith Park in Chaguanas yesterday. He said the Government was desperate. “If there is one desperate government, it’s the PP...They could spread whatever allegations they want. This is part of their dirty tricks campaign,” Warner said. According to parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communication Nicole Dyer-Griffith, information about the “potential disruption to the democratic process” was brought to the PP’s attention, and so the party sought out a meeting with the EBC yesterday. “We would not want that process to be thwarted in any manner. As a result of that, the Attorney General, Minister of Communications (Gerald Hadeed) and I...we met with the chairman of the EBC (Dr Norbert Masson), to raise these concerns.
“Because the issue was brought to our attention on a number of occasions we felt it necessary to raise it in the national public space so that people would be aware, that we are aware, all the parties involved are aware and they need to tread carefully in the conduct of the democratic process,” Dyer said. Ramlogan, Dyer-Griffith and Hadeed met with Masson and Chief Election Officer Ramesh Nanan at the EBC building on Frederick Street to formally discuss the development. “They, too, would have obviously been concerned about that story with the Tru Value purchase,” Ramlogan said. He said after meeting with Nanan and Masson, several notices about bribery and penalties would be announced. Ramlogan said the penalties were not confined to the political party activists, but also the voters who “conspired” with any political party. Hadeed said the meeting was eye-opening and reassuring. “He (Masson) assured us that the necessary precautions are going to be in place to ensure there is no buying of votes by anyone.”
Response from EBC
In another meeting afterward, Masson said the EBC was not the police, and therefore could not investigate the matter itself. He said a letter would be sent to the relevant authorities, and EBC personnel would be vigilant to ensure there were no voting breaches today. “The EBC is treating with these concerns by bringing this matter to the attention of the police. The Elections and Boundaries Commission is not a police station,” Masson said. “We are in the process now of communicating with the commissioner of police, asking him to investigate those allegations made in the article.” He read portions of the Representation of the People’s Act saying it provided for “persons guilty of bribery.” A person is guilty of bribery who directly or indirectly by himself or by any other person on his behalf gives any money or procures any office to or for any elector, or to or for any other person on behalf of an elector, and so on,” Masson read.
He said if a voter accepted something, it was up to the police to investigate to determine whether that was given as part of a scheme to bribe votes. Masson said he could not see how a voter could successfully take a photo of his ballot without being caught, as voters were not using a private room to cast their vote. “I don’t see how they could do that, because the way a station is set up, with the blinds there, we don’t see how it is possible for them to take a photograph and the officers don’t see them.” He added there has never been a case where someone was caught photographing their ballot in the voting booth. Nanan added everything was in place to make sure the election goes smoothly today. “The polling station staff, they are properly trained and they are advised to be on the lookout for people walking into the polling station with any electronic devices. We have taken steps, and this is not the first time those steps have been taken.”
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