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Voters send PNM by-election messageUNC grabs Barataria
Local Government by-election victory for both the People’s National Movement and United National Congress - with a negative message to the ruling PNM.
The ruling PNM prevailed in Belmont East yesterday but lost its Barataria seat in a close fight to the Opposition UNC, which successfully targeted the seat.
“We are the party to watch!” Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared in a victory speech to hundreds of cheering, dancing supporters at the party’s Barataria office last night.
“We have increased our votes by 28 per cent while the PNM has decreased. Tellingly, in Belmont East, once considered the fortress of the unpopular PNM, we also increased our votes by 200 per cent whilst PNM decreased - the message is that the people are fed up of this incompetent PNM Government.”
She added: “While we participated in only two by-elections for electoral districts in adjoining regional corporations in north Trinidad, clear messages were sent to the major political parties and their leadership today. Nowhere is safe for the PNM, we’ve shown we can find them, match them and beat them in the East, the West, the South and in the North.”
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who first celebrated the Belmont East victory at party’s Belmont office at 8.15 pm, had also acknowledged a “close fight” was going on Barataria. He’d said then PNM would accept the will of the people “whatever happens.”
And less than an hour later, Rowley conceded defeat in Barataria, telling the media that all was not lost and the PNM still controlled the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation with 10 seats.
The election was a straight fight to the finish between the PNM and UNC although the 18-month-old Progressive Empowerment Party - which lost its bid in both seats - still picked up some votes.
The Elections and Boundaries Commission didn’t respond on a preliminary voter turnout figure last evening. Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat on CNMG estimated it at around 35 per cent. Turnout was estimated by parties to be low in Belmont East and high in Barataria. Turnout in the 2016 Local Government poll was 34.34 per cent.
By-elections arose following the deaths last year of PNM Barataria councillor Pernel Bruno last July and Belmont East councillor Darryl Rajpaul last November.
The Belmont electorate yesterday was 3,237, as it was for 2016 LG polls when PNM won with 744 votes to UNC’s 49.
The Barataria electorate was 10, 207 - 10 less than when PNM won the seat in 2016 with 1,898 votes to UNC’s 1,506.
Yesterday, however, while the PNM maintained its hold on Belmont, through Nicole Young, the ruling party did so with lesser numbers than when it won it in 2016.
Communication Minister Stuart Young, declaring Belmont East victory at 7.55 pm, said the PNM won 594 votes out of 796 cast. But Young, who said PNM’s victory was “expected,” conceded that the UNC had increased its votes.
UNC Belmont East manager Kevan Gibbs said the party obtained 150 votes, “This was a 200 per cent increase over the 40 votes we got in 2016. We predicted since 9.30 am yesterday that we’d have proven Young to be a liar since he’d said on the campaign the UNC would have gotten less than 50 votes - we here to stay.” Gibbs added.
With all eyes then focused on Barataria for results, the UNC camp had been in a celebratory mood since after 8 pm.
By 8.30 pm, UNC MP Dr Fuad Khan and UNC Barataria co-ordinator Barry Padarath declared victory for Sharon Maraj-Dharam with 1,933 votes.
“I told you we did the work!” Padarath declared.
The Opposition had particularly targeted the Muslim vote in the area and polling division 1405 where such votes were located.
PNM was estimated to have obtained approximately 1,825 votes. PNM officials estimated there was probably a difference of 100-plus votes between their votes and UNC’s.
PNM had prepared for victory with a music truck at the Barataria office and was about to celebrate prematurely when the arrival of two final boxes of votes from the Barataria South Secondary school swung the election the UNC’s way.
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