Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has hinted at the possibility of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) challenging in court the outcome of the North Leeward election which his Unity Labour Party (ULP) candidate Carlos James won by a single vote.
Dr Gonsalves’ hint of the possibility came on Sunday when he called the interactive Issue at Hand programme on WE FM.
Prime Minister Gonsalves was asked if he had any information on the situation with anumber of rejected ballots in North Leeward and if he had any comment.
He replied: “I wouldn’t comment on anything in relation to North Leeward save and except that I have every confidence in the electoral officers. And what they did they did fairly and to the best of their judgement and the matter was heavily scrutinized, as far as I know, and the only thing I am concerned about, the writ was returned with Carlos James as the winner. They want to challenge it; they can challenge it through the court.”
The North Leeward seat, which over the years has been closely contested, had some challenges in the counting of the ballots following the November 5th elections. The final count saw second-time candidate James receiving a single vote more that the NDP’s incumbent candidate Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews – with James receiving a total of 2,271 votes and Matthews receiving a total of 2,270 votes.
According to information received, at the end of the preliminary count, James was initially declared victorious by seven votes.
It was reported that there were 39 ballots declared rejected for various reasons. Most of the ballots rejected were for James.
According to reports, at the end of the final count James’ seven votes margin was reduced to one vote and Matthews requested that the Returning Officer Gordon give him reasonable time to decide whether he should request a recount. But, Gordon declared James victorious.
According to reports, the NDP contended that had the returning officer not rejected three valid votes for Matthews their candidate would be the winner.
Asked by co-host Cecil Ryan if it was fair to say that at the end of the process everyone was satisfied, Prime Minister Gonsalves replied: “I don’t know if at the end of the day both sides were satisfied. I wasn’t there and so on. All I can say is that I am satisfied and that everything was done right and proper and they must be debating as to whether they go and challenge it and find out that Carlos win by more votes.
All I can say is that I am satisfied and that everything was done right and proper and they must be debating as to whether they go and challenge it and find out that Carlos win by more votes.
“But you notice I am very careful in what I am saying about something which may end up in the court,” Dr Gonsalves said, adding that he just raised “a theoretical possibility there without offering any comment.”
Asked about the timeframe in which an election petition must be brought, Dr Gonsalves said it varies in the different jurisdictions in the Caribbean. He said that in some jurisdictions it is seven days which, in his opinion, is too short.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the time frame in which to file an election petition is 21 days after the election. This means that the NDP has until Thursday 26th November, 2020, to file any petition they may wish to bring in relation to the recent elections.
If the NDP files an election petition, it will be the second time they are pursuing such course of action since being voted out of office in 2001. The party’s candidates for North Windward and Central Leeward, Lauron Baptiste and Benjamin Exeter, respectively, filed petitions at the end of December 2015, following the December 9th general elections which the incumbent ULP on by a narrow 8-7 margin.
In March 2019, Justice Stanley John of Trinidad dismissed the petitions following a trial. The NDP appealed the decision but so far the matter has not been heard by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said that one of the unsettled matters from the 2015 petitions is that the government side had judgement in their favour and he was hoping that the Attorney General and ULP candidates Montgomery Daniel and Sir Louis Straker who contested the North Windward and Central Leeward constituencies, respectively, will purse the settlement of cost as awarded by the court.
Prime Minister Gonsalves noted that the NDP lodged an appeal against the judgement but they did not pursue it.