But the EBC has responded, saying it has power under the Constitution to make the decision it did.
In a statement issued yesterday, Persad-Bissessar who leads the United National Congress (UNC) – the main party in the PP coalition – charged that the PP would have won the election had the EBC not given residents more time to vote.
The EBC moved the close of the polls from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Trinidad only, because of heavy rains which caused flooding in some areas. At the end of the count, the People’s National Movement won 23 seats to the PP’s 18, but the former prime minister has insisted that the results be declared null and void.
“The challenge is based on the sudden decision of the EBC to extend the time for voting from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. throughout the country without any official notification to the People’s Partnership and its constituent parties,” Persad-Bissessar said in the UNC statement.
“Information and data received by the party strongly suggested that the People’s Partnership was comfortably ahead in the polls at 6 p.m. “The march to victory was adversely affected by the sudden unilateral decision by the EBC to extend hours of the poll from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.”
She further charged that many voters were unable to cast their vote after 6 p.m. because EBC officials were themselves unaware or uncertain about the time extension; and there were other citizens who did not know about the extension and therefore did not go to vote past the original 6 p.m. deadline.
Persad-Bissessar insisted that if there needed to be a change, it should have been made with adequate prior notice, and suggested that the EBC could have allowed for continued voting the following day.
She said the legal advice that her party received was that the EBC’s decision undermined the legal framework which governs the conduct of the general election and was tantamount to a “shifting of the political goal post at the end of the game”. That, she said, might have affected the integrity of the process and the results in critical constituencies.
“This is a serious and important violation of the spirit and intention of the Constitution, the Representation of the People’s Act and the election rules. We will therefore file these election petitions to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and justice is done,” Persad-Bissessar said.
Interestingly, the prime minister’s own UNC had sent out messages about the voting extension, and used social media to encourage supporters to use the extra hour to cast their ballots.
Although the post about the extension of voting was subsequently removed from the UNC’s Facebook page, several Facebook users uploaded screen shots of the emails and messages they received after the decision was taken to give voters an extra hour to cast their ballots.
Responding to the UNC challenge shortly after the statement was issued, the EBC said that Section 71 of the Constitution, which establishes the Elections and Boundaries Commission, mandates its autonomy over the registration of voters and the conduct of elections in every constituency.
“Additionally, the constitution allows the Commission to exercise their powers in an unfettered manner. Therefore, the decision to extend the hours of the poll finds its basis within the constitutional supervisory jurisdiction of the Commission in all election management matters,” Dominic Hinds, manager of corporate communications at the EBC said in the brief release.
Meantime, Persad-Bissessar was retained as UNC leader at a meeting of the party’s national executive yesterday.