T&T gov’t seeking advice on deferring local gov’t polls

(Trinidad Express) Government is seeking legal advice on the possibility of postponing the local government elections, sources said yesterday.

If the government moves for a postponement this would be a complete reversal of the Prime Minister’s earlier pledges of her People’s Partnership Government to hold elections when they are constitutionally due by October 26.

The fundamental rethink has come in the wake of the debacle which befell the United National Congress (UNC) in the Chaguanas West by-election on July 29 in their heartland seat.

Sources said one of the options that has been proposed is the establishment of advisory councils, comprised of the former councillors, who alongside the mayors and chairmen would run the corporations until the election is held.

The Government allowed the local government bodies to die and the terms of all councillors to expire on July 26. That removed the opportunity for a simple extension of the life of the local government bodies.

At a meeting at Rienzi Complex in Couva on Wednesday called to do a post-mortem of the Chaguanas West by-election, the former councillors expressed their anxieties and made a call for a postponement of the local government polls.

One of the major grounds they advanced was that the Chaguanas election was brutal and bruising and they did not feel the party’s foot soldiers were ready to go back into the election fray in what is likely to be an equally testing battle.

Sources said their argument seems to have found favour with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who took the issue to the Cabinet which discussed the matter at yesterday’s meeting.

But even prior to this, the Government had made overtures to the Opposition on Wednesday evening seeking its support for the move, according to reliable Opposition sources.

The Opposition flatly refused and demanded the elections be called immediately. Sources said the Opposition said the only condition on which it would support this measure which would lead to the delay of local government elections, was if the Prime Minister called a general election instead and in the same time frame.

Questions have however been raised about why the Government approached the Opposition in the first place, given the fact that any legislative measure would require  a single majority which the Government has.

“They don’t need the Opposition. It (any measure) can be passed by a simple majority of 21 votes,” an Opposition source said. The Opposition source said Government appeared to be uncertain of the extent of its support in the House of Representatives at this point in time.

“If we (the Opposition)  support the measure, it would pass, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. But if we are not supporting it and there is a shortfall on their side, the bill would fail and they would have to go to the polls and that would be another disaster,” the Opposition source noted.

However, when questioned on whether the issue of postponement was discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Information Minister Jamal Mohammed would say only: “On more than one occasion our Prime Minister has mentioned that elections when they are due, will be held. And we stand by that position insofar as local government elections are concerned.”

When the People’s Partnership first came to office and the political wind was in its sail, one of the Prime Minister’s first statements was to give a commitment that local government elections would be held when due. The Prime Minister had then contrasted her government’s position with the People’s National Movement’s (PNM’s) record of postponing local government polls.

Former prime minister Patrick Manning had extended the life of local government bodies on three consecutive occasions.

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