THE People’s National Movement (PNM) internal election scheduled to take place over the course of three days, beginning this Saturday, will proceed.
The green light was given after an application for interim relief brought by former PNM minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira was dismissed by Justice Devindra Rampersad yesterday.
Nunez-Tesheira will be contesting the position of the party’s political leader, but claimed the new three-day format for voting was unlawful and contrary to the PNM’s constitution.
Therefore, she and two other claimants—Ken Butcher and Bishop Victor Phillip —were asking the court to grant an injunction restricting the election from taking place for a period of 21 days or until the court ruled on the legality of the new process.
Butcher is vying for the position of chairman of the party under Nunez-Tesheira’s slate while Phillip is contesting the position of elections officer.
Voting is set to take place on Saturday, Sunday and December 4, in all 41 constituencies.
This is the first time the election has been scheduled to take place on two other days other than the convention day.
Nunez-Tesheira, Butcher and Phillip filed the claim last Monday against Minister of Youth Development and National Service Foster Cummings, in his capacity as PNM general secretary and “as a representative of all members of the PNM except the claimants”.
No evidence of unfair election
While Justice Rampersad agreed there was a legitimate issue to be tried regarding whether the election was actually allowed to take place over the course of multiple days, he said no evidence was presented to suggest exactly how the claimants would be prejudiced as they claimed.
“There is no actual evidence of the potential of an unfair election. Or if there were immediate concerns of multiple election days, those concerns were not elaborated upon,” said the judge.
One of the arguments put forward by the claimant’s lead attorney, Egon Embrack, on Monday during the hearing of the application was regarding the safe transport and storage of the ballots once cast.
In his affidavit, Cummings stated the boxes containing the ballots would be transported by members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and would be secured by both the police and accounting firm Pannell Kerr Forster.
Based on this, the judge said Nunez-Tesheira, Butcher and Phillip also failed to provide any evidence to suggest the TTPS or the accounting firm will compromise the security of the boxes in any way.
The judge also took issue with late filing of the application. He said it was publicly known since August 10 that the decision had been made to have the election take place over a three-day period, yet the claimants waited until the “eve of the election” to have the application filed.
“It seems rather inequitable that the application was filed just over a week ago when it was confirmed over three months ago” that the election would take place over multiple days. This was confirmed since August,” he said.
Instead of postponing the election, Justice Rampersad said if after the election there were concerns by the claimants over any illegality that may have taken place, then there was always further recourse that could be explored.
“If after the election there is actual evidence of illegality, this will be sufficient to have the results set aside,” he stated.
Nonetheless, Justice Rampersad said he still needed to determine whether under Article 18(1) of the constitution, the election was allowed to take place over the course of multiple days.
But to do this, the judge said he needed additional time to peruse the party’s constitution itself before making that determination.
Significant funds spent
During Monday’s hearing, Embrack said it was specifically stated in Article 18(1) that the elections were to take place on one day.
“That was borne out from the day this party was founded by Eric Eustace Williams in 1956.... From 1956 to present, this is what over 100,000 members have come to understand,” Embrack had said.
He attempted to convince the court that if the elections were to proceed over in its non-traditional way, the only ones that stand to benefit were “the incumbent people.”
While there were to be polling stations across the 41 constituencies, Embrack said his clients did not even know the exact locations.
“Yesterday (Sunday), the updated list was sent out. They sent out a list of polling stations without telling us where the polling stations are in the 41 constituencies,” he said.
The attorney went on to add that his clients believed the greater risk of injustice was on them if the court did not grant the interim reliefs sought.
“This election is flawed and the claimants in this matter, they don’t have a fair chance,” he said.
In response to his submissions, Senior Counsel Russell Martineau urged the court to dismiss the application.
Since August 10, he said, the claimants would have known the dates of the election, but yet, they elected to wait until mid-November to challenge the decision.
On this ground of delay alone, Martineau said the application should fail. He pointed out that significant funds had to be spent to prepare for the election, and all of this had to be taken into consideration.
“So between August and November, nothing was done and then they come to the court and ask that they be granted an injunction to stop an election that is to commence on November 26 when you had three months within which to do so.
“The court should not lend its aid to that unless there is good reason,” said Martineau.