By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad CMC – The ruling coalition People’s Partnership government suffered its fourth consecutive defeat in elections here this year as the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) intensified its call for a general election ahead of the constitutional deadline of 2015.
The PNM on Monday won the St. Joseph by-election after its candidate Terrence Deyalsingh, who polled 6,356 votes, defeated Ian Alleyne (5,577 votes) of the ruling United National Congress (UNC), the biggest partner in the four-member coalition government, attorney Om Lalla (1,976) of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Errol Fabien (300) and Michael Lopez of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), who received five votes.
Preliminary figures released by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) showed that of the 26,891 registered voters, 52.98 or 14,248 persons exercised their franchise.
The by-election was occasion after Speaker Wade Mark on September 9 declared the St. Joseph seat vacant after former High Court judge, Herbert Volney, who was elected as parliamentary representative in the 2010 general elections on a UNC ticket, announced he had resigned from the party.
The Kamla Persad Bissessar led coalition, which originally comprised five parties, but lost the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) last year, lost the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) polls in January, the by-election in Chaguanas West in July and the Local Government elections last month.
PNM leader Dr. Keith Rowley, told supporters that the party was “thankful” for the victory in what has been considered a marginal seat and which the party lost by more than 3,000 votes in the 2010 general election.
“I want to thank the people for responding to our call,” he said, adding that the latest victory had once again underscored the need for a general election since the coalition government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar had lost its mandate.
Rowley said during the campaign the government had used state resources to support its candidate and during Monday’s poll, supporters of the government were being provided with mobile phones and money in order to cast ballots in favour of Alleyne.
He said moreover the government had a day before the election paid out money to people in one section of the constituency on the pretence that it was paying compensation for flood damage.
“We will raise these matters with the Integrity Commission,” Rowley said, telling supporters “this government is desperate and will do anything”.
He repeated the call for a general election as he had done following the PNM’s victory in the Local Government last month, adding “this government is dangerous, it has lost its mandate”.
Rowley said it must be a “Guinness record” for the government to have lost four elections within a one year period, adding “this government has no mandate”.
The victorious PNM candidate told supporters he had witnessed the distribution of mobile phones adding that he was thankful that voters had rejected the moves by the coalition to retain the seat.
Alleyne in his concession speech told supporters “I am not a loser” saying that he had only been able to campaign for 10 days.
“I go to bed with my conscience clear,” he said, accusing Lalla of “betraying the nation” by splitting the votes of the coalition in the constituency.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said while the results may have been very close, the voice of the people must be respected.
She said the election was “a hard fight, it was not an easy fight” adding “we live to fight another day”.
She insisted that her government remains “committed to serving all the people” of the country and that the government has a “very clear mandate to deliver, deliver”.
As a result of the by-election, the coalition now controls 27 of the 41 seats in parliament.
ILP leader and former national security minister, Austin “Jack” Warner, said the four-month old party was not discouraged by the results and predicted that it would be a force to be reckoned with in 2015.
“What you saw here tonight is vex votes, but roughly 2,000 people not vex with us,” he said, adding “we came with a record of zero and we leave with nearly 2000 votes.”
Warner insisted that the party, which also won two seats in the Local Government elections “is here to stay and in 15 months we will build a party that will make all of you proud.
“We will build on our foundation,” he assured supporters.
But former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who was among television commentators said the ILP would find it “very difficult to stay alive”.
Another political commentator, Dr. Indiria Rampersad, described the PNM’s victory as “narrow” saying the UNC has been able to climb back following its devastating defeats in the last three elections to lose by a less than 600 votes in the marginal seat.
“The PNM campaign is going to be concerned about this victory,” she added.
But Rowley told supporters “whatever the numbers are, we have thankfully prevailed”.