Trinidad voters divided along ethnic lines
Close election predicted by polls
BY IAN JAMES
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad -- A governing party dominated by people
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
``We have to bypass that racial tension,'' said insurance saleswoman
Merrick, whose ancestors include Africans, East Indians and Portuguese.
Polls predicted the parliamentary elections would be extremely
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
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
Manning and Panday have leveled harsh accusations of corruption
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
``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
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
residents tried to register in swing constituencies where they did not live. Several
have been arrested, mostly Panday supporters.