The Miami Herald
December 12, 2000

Trinidad voters divided along ethnic lines

Close election predicted by polls

 Associated Press

 PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad -- A governing party dominated by people of East
 Indian descent and a largely black opposition party were pitted against each other
 Monday in an election that has bared racial divisions in the Caribbean nation of
 Trinidad and Tobago.

 Voters lined up outside polling places to press their fingers in magenta ink and
 cast ballots that will determine whether the United National Congress of Prime
 Minister Basdeo Panday, the country's first Hindu leader, remains in power.

 Some people openly refer to the National Congress as the ``Indian party,'' and to
 the People's National Movement of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning as the
 ``African party.''

 ``We have to bypass that racial tension,'' said insurance saleswoman Nicole
 Merrick, whose ancestors include Africans, East Indians and Portuguese.

 Polls predicted the parliamentary elections would be extremely close, with
 mixed-race voters expected to play a significant role in determining the next

 ``Race certainly doesn't play a factor in my decision-making,'' said voter Stuart
 Young, 25, an attorney of Chinese and East Indian ancestry. ``You don't want to
 bring yourself to think that people vote along racial lines. I certainly don't. But I
 think it's true.''

 The former British colony's 1.3 million people are evenly split between the
 descendants of indentured laborers from India and those who trace their ancestry
 to African slaves, each making up about 40 percent of the population.

 Those of mixed race are about 18 percent, with 2 percent of Chinese or European

 Manning and Panday have leveled harsh accusations of corruption and inciting
 racial tensions.

 A third party, the multiracial National Alliance for Reconstruction, pulled out of all
 races on Trinidad, accusing the two main parties of polarizing the country along
 ethnic lines.

 ``It is only at election time that we have this division, and it is more so this time
 because we have an Indian prime minister. The Afro-Trinidadian does not trust
 him,'' said Kenneth Butcher, the campaign manager for National Movement
 candidate Nafeesa Mohammed.

 Regardless of the results, legal challenges over allegations of voter registration
 fraud and other issues are expected, raising the possibility of disputed results.

 ``We don't trust that the election will go fairly,'' said black voter Antoinette Claire
 Salomon, who said she suspects the National Congress will do whatever is
 necessary to remain in power.

 In response to charges from Manning's party, electoral officials reported 252
 residents tried to register in swing constituencies where they did not live. Several
 have been arrested, mostly Panday supporters.