Defeated leadership candidate Dr Roodal Moonilal is challenging the fairness of Saturday's United National Congress (UNC) internal election, saying it was riddled with fraud and irregularities.
His claim came after over a dozen blank ballot papers were found on the bank of the Katwaroo Dam in Penal yesterday.
According to Moonilal, who led the Loyalists team, there were also reports of people seen with ballot papers outside polling stations in Central Trinidad, poor quality ink which could be wiped off, members' names appearing several times on one list and in some cases the same names appearing in several constituencies. He said there were also instances where members were allowed to vote although their names were not on the voters' list, while in some stations members whose names were not on the list but had a party card were not allowed to vote. Moonilal said his team also had a photograph of someone removing a ballot box from a polling station around 1 pm on Saturday, claiming that it was full and needed to be replaced. He said spoilt ballots were counted in Fyzabad.
"The overall assessment is that it was not fair and it was not free. The list was terribly inappropriate and that may have led to mass fraud," Moonilal told the T&T Guardian in a telephone interview yesterday.
"I am not arguing that if all of the defects were taken that we would have been successful. Maybe the results would have been the same, but what this does is undermine the integrity and credibility of the system, and regrettably the persons who have won by this flawed process."
During an interview last month, Moonilal had also raised concerns about the freeness and fairness of the election, saying that a member of the election committee had participated in a strategy meeting for re-elected political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Although the member subsequently resigned, he charged that several of Persad-Bissessar's team members were presiding officers at the election.
Yesterday, he added, "We had very serious concerns at a time, particularly about the list. We were complaining for weeks about the lists, with several people's names appearing three and four times.
"On election day, when you connect the dots and the vanishing ink, from ever since we have been involved in elections in this country, we have used a red ink that stays on your finger for days, sometimes weeks."Although he was undecided on whether court action would follow, he said his attorneys were taking statements from witnesses.
He acknowledged Persad-Bissessar's victory with over 15,000 votes, but questioned whether the result would have been the same if not for the irregularities.
"At this stage I cannot say whether or not we will embark on any court action, but certainly the party needs to take stock. We have to look at some of the statements we have from persons. You can only take court action if you have the requisite statements properly done," he said.
"Court action cannot be on the basis of hearsay, it must be done in the basis of information that is presented by those persons who have witnessed wrong doing."
Moonilal also questioned election committee chairman Rampersad Parasam's claim that the ink used in the election was the same used by the Elections and Boundaries Commission. On Saturday, Moonilal demonstrated how easily the ink was removed from his finger using a "Wet Wipe."
Calls to Persad-Bissessar's phone yesterday went unanswered and she did not return calls or messages left.
As to his future relationship with Persad-Bissessar, Moonilal said he had worked with her during her time as prime minister and Opposition Leader so nothing would change. He said he was also careful not to attack her during his campaign.
"I have worked with the Opposition Leader before as prime minister and shortly as Opposition Leader. Nothing will change and I was careful on the platform not to be attacking her. I have never raised issues of personality, that is not my kind of politics," he said.
"We gave a vision and a programme for the party. In a sense, the Opposition leader, not withstanding how unfair the process was, has to continue to provide the leadership and I wish her the best with her new team."
Although he expressed little confidence in the new executive, he said he would give his support. As for his role in the party, now that he is no longer an executive member but continues as the Oropouche East MP, he said, "I continue to represent my constituency in Parliament. I continue my parliamentary work. I have been in the party for many years as an officer, so that type of work will cease but I continue to hold on as a UNC member and supporter as much as I can.
"You have to give the new members of the executive, however unfair the process was to put them there, the space and the latitude to contribute as best they can. We don't have confidence in this new executive, but they have gone through a lot to be there and they must be given the latitude to make a contribution if that can."