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The people have spoken – Again!

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As the dust begins to settle on the 2020 general elections, albeit with a bitter taste in some quarters, it is time for us all to reflect on the elections, the implications of the outcome and where do we go from here.

Very often, after elections, the emphasis is placed on the outcome but it is far more important to dwell on the more important issues of how it impacts on our way forward. For essentially, we did not just vote to pick this or that person, at the root of it was our concept of how our vote can help to propel our country forward and result in a better life for us and our children. Since the issues are so substantial and cannot all be dealt with at one time, this column will take the approach of a series, beginning with the contextual issues.

First of all, my heartiest congratulations to our people, who, in spite of the intensity of the competition between the competing parties, demonstrated once again that we can conduct elections with maturity and in peace. Many of us were worried, pre-elections, about possible violence, but once more we rose above that and except for the Rillan Hill incident, manifested once again our faith in the electoral process. Even when provocation reared its head in the form of some over-enthusiastic supporters in and around polling stations, we kept our cool. In addition, voters stood patiently in line sometimes for up to two hours and awaited their turn to cast their ballots. Our politicians must surely reflect on the sacrifice that voters make just to cast their votes and respect those who voted for them.

I must also give full compliments to Governor General Dame Susan Dougan for her inspirational call to the government to reach out and be inclusive and practise healing.

Next, no praises are too much for the Supervisor of Elections, her deputy and the entire staff of the Electoral Department for their herculean efforts in organizing the 2020 elections. They must have approached the task with some trepidation following the abuse and harassment of the previous Supervisor following the contentious 2015 elections.

It took a great deal of courage and commitment to undertake this thankless task, but they carried it out with fortitude and made a success of it.

It was not only the level of organisation on election day but before that, the registration process and above all the outreach and public education. These must have contributed significantly to the success of the entire exercise. Even the perpetual rabble-rousers found themselves stumped in the process.

While we are on this issue of the organisation of the elections, we must constantly seek ways and means to improve it, to raise our game to even higher levels. The officials in the electoral department are under constant stress and one cannot expect them to do everything. It would be a more than useful idea to get more professional help in matters like the choice of polling stations, their lay-out and reorganising the polling booths themselves, including having more to speed up the process. Given the long lines and time spent, it is time for the provision of portable toilets outside the station to accommodate the needs of voters.

The idea to make special provision for the aged and physically challenged proved to be an excellent one but there were still some uncomfortable hurdles at some of the stations. Perhaps we could consider the idea of devoting one suitable polling station in each constituency for these persons, requiring of course some indication and organisation beforehand, where all such persons and those who accompany them can vote. It will call for some organisation but if we can pull it off it would make life much more comfortable for these folk.

Another aspect of the election day organisation demanding attention is the post-election coverage . I was again involved in the process and it turned out to be once more very frustrating at times. This has nothing to do with the excellent preparation of the media workers, under the direction of NBC General manager Ms. Dionne John. They deserve high praise for their level of organisation.

The problem is that we seem to perpetually forget that we are in the technological age. With the omnipresent cellphone, you cannot have a team waiting forever to call out results which social media and the political parties have already circulated. We were looking foolish on television waiting for results which town and country already knew. When the official results only had one or two seats declared, most people already knew who had won the elections. In fact one politician interviewed nearly wrecked the entire exercise by claiming victory long before the results were known. Fortunately a hitch in the broadcast avoided what could be a catastrophe. There is too much suspicion for persons to be hearing and seeing scores while the official figures are lacking far behind. This must be addressed if there is to be trust in the system.

In terms of the organisation of the process, the Commissioner of Police, the security forces and all others who performed duties which contributed to the success of the event must also be complimented.

In the end, the outcome of the elections indicated the continuing split in political loyalties. How must we handle this? What implications are there for the country? These, and the fortunes of the parties, will be addressed in the second part next week.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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