PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – More than 90 persons were nominated Friday to contest the August 10 general elections, amid allegations of racism, the return of a prominent political name and the re-appearance of the disgraced global football honcho, Austin Jack Warner.
The ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) is the only party contesting all 41 seats in the general election, while the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) is contesting 39 seats.
Several small opposition parties, as well as a few independent candidates, have thrown their hats in the ring.
While the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) described Friday’s activity as generally without any major mishap, a statement made by UNC and Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad Bissessar, in which she is heard referring to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley “as the black man over there” has led to denials to the country’s first ever woman prime minister that she was engaged in race baiting in this multi-ethnic country.
“I am not a racist,” she maintained after filing her nomination papers for the Siparia constituency, which she has represented for several years, insisting that the words she used during her party’s campaign on Thursday night was ” blank man”
“This is the desperation of the other side to insert race into everything. I am not a racist, I am a citizen of this country…they have nothing to campaign on, they have delivered nothing,” Persad Bissessar told reporters.
She said that she had been using words such as “blanking” and “blank man” in reference to Rowley, who told reporters that this is not the first time that the Opposition Leader had alluded to race when describing him.
“Mrs Kamla Persad Bissessar has been running a quiet racial campaign for a very long time and she came out very openly. There are very many occasions when you in the media would have seen her accusing me of being in th4 pockets of the one per cent (and) that was an attack on the Syrian community and then trying to divide us along racial and ethnic lines,” Rowley told reporters after signing his nomination papers for Diego Martin West.
“When that did not work she called me an Oreo,’ adding “I have always maintained that I am a proud black man .I carry myself in a way that black boys and black girls can be proud of what I am and what I represent, my children are proud of me, I have never been ashamed of my skin,” he added.
Rowley told reporters that it is “instructive” in an era of Black Lives Matter, an Indian person “who is black like me would use the term black to disparage me”.
Brian Manning, the son of the late prime minister, Patrick Manning, has filed nomination papers to contest the San Fernando East seat that had been held by his father for more than two decades.
“His vision is different, people will appreciate him, he is a god guy,” his mother and a former minister, Hazel Manning told reporters.
“Everyone thank you for coming out this morning I am humbled by the responsibility you have placed on my shoulders, I promise you I will be present, available and ready to deal with the issue s that affect you most,” Manning said after his nomination papers were filed.
Warner, 77, who is facing possible extradition to the United States on fraud, racketeering, and money laundering related charges arising from his tenure as the Vice President of the International Football Federation (FIFA), will contest the Lopinot Bon Air, which is held by the PNM. He said he remains optimistic at winning the court cases.
Warner is contesting under the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) which he founded in 2013 after breaking away from the Persad Bissessar-led People’s Partnership government.
Warner, speaking to reporters after filing his papers, promise a “campaign of your lifetime” saying he never lost anything yet.
Warner was first elected to Parliament in 2010 when he won the Chaguanas West constituency and regained the seat in 2013 in a by-election as the ILP candidate, when he resigned the seat after he was fired by Persad Bissessar over the FIFA scandal.
In 2015, he lost the seat to the UNC’s Ganga Singh, who has been side lined by Persad Bissessar for the upcoming general election.
The EBC said that while it did not receive did not receive any reports or complaints of anything untoward, it was nonetheless concerned that people were not adhering to the social distancing rules as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Those gatherings would have been in the public space and not in the office of the returning offices, and that is where the EBC has control in terms of the numbers that would be entering the offices. What is happening outside, we don’t have any control over that.
“But, I am sure the political parties would have briefed their supporters in terms of all the guidelines that they should be adhering to,” Chief Election Officer Fern Narcis-Scope told local media.
“From an EBC perspective, once the candidates adhere to our stipulations entering the office of the returning offices, then we were good. I have seen that Carnival like atmosphere (that you are describing), I did see it on television for a number of these candidates.”
On Thursday, the Ministry of National Security reminded all persons, particularly political parties and their supporters that the Public Health Regulations designed to fight the spread of COVID-19 are still in place.
According to the regulations, people should not gather in groups of more than 25 for any activity, but the Ministry said it has been observed that persons and, on occasions, political party supporters and prospective candidates, are congregating in public places in groups of more than 25.