Current Affairs

Current Affairs




PNM by 4
Manning defeats Panday in close T&T poll
Observer Reporter
Wednesday, October 09, 2002



Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minster Patrick Manning, (2nd from left), is shown with bodyguards after casting his vote at the Belmont Government Primary School polling station in Belmont on the outskirts of the capital, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, yesterday. (Photo:AP)

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad -- Patrick Manning's People's National Movement (PNM) was last night declared winner, by a slim majority, of yesterday's general elections in this twin-island republic.

Early results showed the PNM winning 20 seats in the 36-seat parliament, while Basdeo Panday's United National Congress (UNC) took 16, ending a longstanding political deadlock that had immobilised the government.

General elections in Trinidad and Tobago last year ended in an 18-18 tie between the PNM and the UNC. However, Manning, the PNM leader, was named as prime minister by President ANR Robinson. But the Trinidad Parliament was unable to meet because of its inability to elect a speaker, forcing the government to call fresh elections.

Without a speaker, the government's budget cannot be passed.

Before the declaration of the results last night, Panday told supporters in Couva that the election would probably result in another deadlock.

Panday voted in San Fernando and said that power-sharing would be necessary regardless of the outcome of the elections.

But Manning, who voted in Port-of-Spain, predicted victory by the close of the polls.

About 875,000 people were registered to vote, but turnout data was not available. The polls closed at 6:00 pm, but some who waited until the last minute were allowed to cast their votes.

Some voters complained that they waited more than two hours for a chance to cast ballots. Security personnel watched for disturbances.

Yesterday, the UNC complained that its supporters had been harassed in the constituency of Tunapuna. Police could not confirm the report.

"You had heated arguments with elections activists -- that's a normal thing," said Sergeant Oswyn Davis. "But no violence."

Shivam Maharaj, a 21-year-old political science student, voted for the UNC in the southern Trinidad district of San Fernando and said people's votes this year were likely race-based.

"It is bad," he said. "But that's how it is for now."

Several of the voters said there should be constitutional reform to prevent future deadlocks. Some fear the government could stop functioning if another tie prevented approval of a new budget this month.

Trinidad and Tobago gained independence 40 years ago from Britain. With slavery's abolition in 1834, blacks abandoned sugar plantations and the British brought indentured labourers from India.

Blacks dominated politics among the 1.3 million people until recent years, when the Indian-descended population grew to match that of blacks. Elections have been close since 1995, when Panday first became prime minister.

The race issue has overshadowed others in the country, whose supply of oil and natural gas has given it one of the strongest economies in the Caribbean. But poverty persists, and more than 10 per cent are unemployed.

This year's election season has been bitter, with both parties accusing each other of corruption. Panday is facing criminal charges for failing to disclose an alleged London bank account he held while prime minister, reported to hold hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a last-minute campaign drama Sunday, a woman accused Manning of fathering her two-year-old daughter and not paying child support. Manning's lawyer denied it and threatened to sue.