“As of today, the postponement of elections is not on the cards.”
These are the words of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Wednesday when addressing how the rise in COVID-19 cases will affect the upcoming General Elections on August 10.
Speaking at a media conference in Port of Spain this afternoon, Rowley said that the threshold for postponement of the elections would be the presenting of large numbers of positive cases throughout the country. This stage he said, has not been met and is not likely to be met before next week Monday.
“The threshold for postponing the election is where the situation is out of control or likely to be out of control in Trinidad and Tobago. That threshold is not met and is not anywhere near us…I see people asking for a postponement of the election. Let me just tell you something I know about my country very well. If I were the person who had asked for postponement of the election, you’d have had crowds exposing themselves to the congregation to oppose that. I made sure I was the last person to even think about that because it was not necessary,” he said.
He added that the increasing virus cases were currently under control. The sources of the majority of these, he said, were identified. Those unknown are being investigated.
“The number by itself is not the whole question, it is where those numbers came from. All that increase from case 139 we've been able to identify most of those and the ones we haven't identified are under active investigation…We are not going to expose ourselves to a situation where it can get out of control and then there are genuine cases for the election to be postponed. We are not there yet and we don’t expect to be there in the next few days,” he said.
Should protocols be followed, he said, the model suggest the country’s position will remain stable post elections. He added that elections are a necessary feature, having been conducted in several countries in the midst of the global pandemic. As such he asked that the pandemic not be used as an excuse to not vote on election day.
“The models say that once we follow the protocols that the EBC has set out and that we set out for the nation the activity of polling is not extraordinary activity. As a matter of fact, taking out half of the public service from coming out to work is more effective than persons in a line five or six feet apart going to vote. So, we are doing our business while the virus is among us but the level of risk. Some business places now will not let you in without sanitizing your hands, you go to a place to eat, you will see it there. We are living with the virus and one of the things you do when you are alive is have an election, very important. I hope you will go out and vote and not use the virus as an excuse for not being a participant.”
“There are a number of countries that conducted their elections and it was not a result of virus or no virus. There are protocols we are supposed to be following and the EBC protocols are followed at the polling stations, once the police enforce the no loitering no congregating in public places,” he said.
According to Rowley, while responsible voting is encouraged, the involvement of at-risk groups, such as persons in elder care facilities, is not necessary. If protocols outlined by the EBC such as mask wearing and avoiding congregation are followed, he said an upsurge in cases can be avoided. However, he added that there are limits on what can be done by the Government to enforce public health measures.
“People choose not to vote for all kinds of reasons. I think the people of Trinidad and Tobago are sufficiently responsible and if we had not taken out one person, lost one person yet from our senior citizens homes. I would be very surprised if anybody goes to those homes to take out those persons to carry them to a polling station, I expect that we will conduct elections without them and the reason being that nobody wants to trample on the rights of the constitution but because they are so exposed, this is a pandemic election.”
“In any case there is a limit to what the state can do. If in your backyard, you and your neighbours gather together to have a party or you sneak away and go to a fete while the rest of us are sleeping, 200 of you irresponsible people, go to have to beer in a fete in an enclosed environment, the most I can think of is a small dose of something in a closed place called a jail. The last thing we want now is to pick up people and have other people to handle and process them, don’t worsen the situation. That is what it is, to prosecute people for not wearing a mask, requires a body of people to carry out the enforcement,” he said.
He ended by appealing to voters to behave responsibly.
“We just have to behave properly, that is why I keep enforcing it is the personal responsibility that is taking us through this situation. and normal people who are ambulatory can go to the polling station and of course do what you normally do. After you cast your vote don’t hang around and when you are there follow the protocols and we will all be relatively safe doing that,” said Rowley.