The chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission Dr Norbert Masson yesterday cleared the way for today’s ceremony by formally communicating the results of Monday’s General Election to the President at 3.30 pm.
It will be a historic ceremony held at a historic location coming after a general election campaign which saw the UNC/COP-led People’s Partnership coalition take home 29 seats to the PNM’s 12 seats.
Persad-Bissessar is expected to be sworn in by Richards, alongside her new Attorney General, who under the Constitution is essential to the formation of a Cabinet.
Yesterday saw another day of frenetic activity as the political landscape of Trinidad and Tobago came to terms with Persad-Bissessar’s victory in an election that saw the highest voter turn-out since 2002.
Persad-Bissessar spent the day in meetings and in consultations with members of the People’s Partnership coalition which includes the UNC, COP, TOP, NJAC as well as the MSJ and members of YesTT. She is understood to have firmed-up talks on crucial Cabinet appointments, one of which must be the Attorney General.
The EBC also yesterday started a recount of the Point Fortin seat, with recounts of the Arima and Diego Martin North/East seats scheduled to start this morning and this afternoon.
While Persad-Bissessar was busy consulting on her Cabinet appointments, the losing candidates of the PNM met at Balisier House and resolved to call a meeting of the party’s General Council tomorrow.
Asked yesterday whether she was surprised at the People’s Partnership landslide victory Persad- Bissessar said, “I was focused and confident...I never once doubted the people, that they would have voted for change and hope. So I want to say thank you Trinidad and Tobago.”
Persad-Bissessar said she spent her first day after her party’s overwhelming victory seeing about the people’s business. She stayed at a relative’s home where she managed to squeeze in a couple hours of sleep and some rest in the early part of the day. However, most of her time was spent on the phone, putting things in place to ensure the pledges she made to the nation could be fulfilled.
“We, the People’s Partnership intend to remain focused on the pledges we made...we will do our best to honour our pledges and take care of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Asked how she felt after having had time to let the reality of her victory sink in, Persad-Bissessar responded, “I feel very calm and I remain focused...now that we have the chance to try our best to change the lives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Visits to orphanages and schools are part of her plans, and even though putting her Cabinet together and the official swearing-in ceremony today may be demanding her attention, such interests remain on her agenda. Persad-Bissessar said many of the pressing issues she wants to address go hand-in-hand with each other thus “its hard to choose one ripe mango on the tree.”
“They are all intertwined..crime goes hand in hand with poverty, then there’s corruption.” She then vowed, “I will honour my pledges!”
“We the People’s Partnership intend to remain focused on the pledges we made..we can’t say it is as easy as 1, 2, 3 but we will do our best to honour our pledges and take care of the people.”
She said the $100 million LIFE fund for children, tackling crime and the $3,000 old age pension are some of the promises to be kept early in the coalition’s tenure.
Asked who her Attorney General would be, Persad-Bissessar declined to comment, saying it would be inappropriate at the time to release such information. However, several names circulated yesterday for the post which, under a coalition government, would be in charge of dealing with matters of civil administration.
Among the names on the lips of party sources yesterday were coalition members known to have legal backgrounds. These included: attorney Anand Ramlogan of the UNC and attorneys Timothy Hamel-Smith and Prakash Ramadhar of the COP. Former High Court judge Justice Herbert Volney was mentioned but could be in line for the proposed portfolio of Minister of Justice, who would take over some of the functions of the Attorney General in relation to responsibilities for the administration of criminal matters.
The coalition members with legal backgrounds could all be possible appointees for the battery of law-related posts Persad-Bissessar announced during her campaign. Those posts include: Attorney General, Minister of Justice, Minister of National Security and Minister of Legal Affairs. Another coalition member with legal training is the Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal.
Today’s swearing-in ceremony at Knowsley comes just over one week since a large portion of the roof of President’s House collapsed, ten years after the building was first condemned by officials of the Ministry of Works and Transport. It is understood that the garden of President’s House was considered a possible venue but was ruled out.
It will be the second time that a Prime Minister will not be sworn-in at President’s House. In 2007, then Prime Minister-elect Patrick Manning was sworn in by Richards at a ceremony attended by the public at Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain.
It was unclear yesterday whether the public would be involved in today’s swearing in.
Newsday understands that there had been tentative plans to have tents and large screens erected for members of the public to view the ceremony from the Queen’s Park Savannah.
However there was no clear word on whether this would occur by yesterday evening. The announcement that Persad-Bissessar would today be sworn in at Knowsley also came after a day which saw anxieties over the length of time the EBC took to communicate its official results to President Richards.
Attorney Om Lalla, acting on behalf of the UNC chairman Jack Warner, argued in a letter lodged with the EBC at 4 pm, that under Section 104 of the Representation of the People Act and Section 76(1) of the Constitution, “it is the duty of the EBC, upon determining the poll results of each constituency and upon confirmation of a majority, to inform the President forthwith which shall enable the President to appoint the Prime Minister.” However EBC officials told Newsday yesterday that EBC chairman Dr Norbert Masson communicated the results formally to the President at 3.30 pm, after the EBC completed the lengthy process of cross-checks on the data gleaned from polling divisions.
Sources at President’s House yesterday said there was nothing unusual about the amount of time taken to communicate the results to the President, noting that each election unfolds with its own characteristics depending on the circumstances, such as its scale and turnout.
A total of 722,322 voted in Monday’s poll. Today’s swearing-in will take place at a building known for its symbolic ties to governance. Knowsley occupies an entire block bounded by Queen’s Park West, Albion Street, Chancery Lane and Dundonald Street. It was designed and constructed in 1904 by Taylor Gillies for merchant William Gordon.
The interior features gesso work was said to have been done by an Italian craftsman who did the work on the ceiling of what was known as the Council Chamber of the Red House, St Vincent Street, which today houses the Parliament.
The building, composed of a blend of imported yellow bricks and hand hewn local limestone, was bought by the Government in 1956 at the price-tag of $250,000.
It housed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the last PNM administration and was ear-marked to house the National Museum after the entire complex underwent a $45 million renovation.
All such plans, however, will now be in the hands of the new Prime Minister.