Many countries proclaim that they conduct fair, free and legitimate elections yet the political directorates in these countries either at central or local levels are preoccupied with the manipulation of electoral systems to produce predetermined results. Recently, in a European country there were daily protests against the President who was accused of rigging the election in his favour. Even in the US there was the incredible request by former President Donald Trump to a state election official to find 11,800 votes to overturn the results in that state. The Republican party in the states which they control is busy passing laws to restrict voter participation in the interest of that party.
In many African states it is routine for allegations of voter fraud and vote rigging to be made after elections are held. In the Caribbean, the Forbes Burnham regime in Guyana was notorious for brazen election fraud and manipulation. Burnham even said that no sitting Government had a right to lose an election.
Here in TnT there has been vehement denial by the PNM that it took decisions at the governmental level with a view to securing electoral advantage. There have been many allegations in this regard. After the PNM lost the 1958 Federal Elections and the 1959 Local Government Elections, it feared the possibility of losing power and strategies were developed to prevent this outcome.
The first of such strategies was to influence the appointment of members and personnel to the Elections Commission and to the Boundaries Commission to oversee the demarcation of constituency boundaries in its favour. When one examines the configuration of these constituency boundaries, the number of electors in them and their dispersal through urban, semi-urban and rural areas there seems to be some credibility to this allegation. The preparation of the final electoral lists was also a matter of concern.
Secondly, the PNM Government decided to introduce voting machines for the crucial 1961 General Elections to count a total of 378,000 electors when other countries with millions of electors were counting their votes manually. The pretext for the introduction of the voting machines was that it would protect against voter fraud which, in fact, is prevented, not by voting machines, but by the integrity and accuracy of official voters’ lists, by the vigilance of polling day personnel to identify impersonation of voters and instances of double voting, by ensuring the accuracy of votes cast for each candidate at each station after the end of polling and by securing ballot boxes.
When the issue of gross irregularities in voting and the aggregation of votes cast in the 1961 General Elections was taken to court, the Petition was lost by a 2-1 majority with two judges voting in favour of rejecting the Petition and one voting to allow it. The Petition therefore seemed to have merit. In an interview in September 1965 with then DLP leader Dr. Rudranath Capildeo at his London flat in Clapham Common, he firmly believed that the 1961 General Elections were rigged in favour of the PNM through the use of the voting machines to produce a 20-10 victory for that party. He even identified, from his party’s detailed investigations and enquiries, the marginal seats which were won by the DLP but officially lost.
Finally, to make electoral assurance doubly sure, the PNM Government would open the gates for the unrestricted migration of people from the small islands to TnT. In an interview with B.C. Pires in the Newsday of 19/4/21, one Ms. Glenda Collens who came from Grenada had this to say:-“On the wave of Independence, Prime Minister Eric Williams promised the ‘small islanders’ their own land and a better life in return for their votes. He put them in thicket hills of Laventille, Morvant, Barataria, Diego Martin and Carenage. Cow-itch, stinging nettle, gru gru, bef trees and endless snakes. Hence today the generational vote is guaranteed, no matter the condition of their lives.”
–By Trevor Sudama