By Eve George
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — In local government by-elections in Trinidad on Monday, the opposition United National Congress (UNC) candidate, Sharon Maraj-Dharam, was elected as the new councilor for the Barataria North West municipal seat, a traditional stronghold of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM).
Nicole Young, the PNM candidate, held the Belmont East Port of Spain seat.
The Barataria electorate was 10,207 – ten fewer than when the PNM won the seat in 2016 with 1,898 votes to the UNC’s 1,506. The Belmont electorate was 3,237, as it was for the 2016 local government polls when the PNM won with 744 votes to the UNC’s 49.
Opposition leader and former prime minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar said, even though the UNC won only one seat, it contested only two seats in the 2018 by-elections and it is safe to say that the party was victorious as votes have increased for the UNC.
“We are UNC and proud to be the only of the two major parties growing in widespread popular support outside of our traditional power base. We are the party to watch as we have increased votes in 16 of the 17 polling divisions with one remaining same. The PNM decreased in nine polling divisions. We increased our votes by 28 percent whilst the PNM decreased.
“Tellingly, in the Belmont district once considered the fortress of the unpopular PNM – we increased our votes by 200 percent whilst the PNM decreased. Today nowhere is safe for the PNM, we have shown we can find them, match them and beat them in the East, in the West, in the South and in the North,” Persad Bissessar said in a statement after the results were announced.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley acknowledged his defeat in Barataria, while also celebrating his party’s victory in Belmont East, and stated that he accepts whatever the people want and who the people want to represent them.
The elections were not without controversy however, as the Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP) candidate for Barataria, Christoph Samlal, accused the PNM and UNC parties of breaking electoral rules by plastering political posters and other paraphernalia within 100 yards of the polling stations in Barataria, as he stood outside the St George’s College polling station giving reporters and onlookers evidence to back up his claim.
By-elections for the Belmont East and Barataria constituencies arose following the deaths last year of PNM Barataria councilor, Pernel Bruno, last July, and Belmont East councilor, Darryl Rajpaul, last November.