Port of Spain: Voters in Trinidad and Tobago chose not to give Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's coalition a new five-year term, opting to bring back the opposition under Keith Rowley.
People in the oil-rich, twin island nation off South America's northeastern shoulder voted yesterday in elections that had the prime minister battling both the opposition -- and an upstart splinter party launched by disgraced football honcho Jack Warner.
Persad-Bissessar's main challenger was Rowley, a vulcanologist; his People's National Movement (PNM) has governed the nation more than any other since independence from Britain in 1964.
"These are not the times of milk and honey. There are difficult times ahead. We have a resilient people, particularly a large body of young people who are looking for a future from our country," the prime minister-elect said to chants of "Rowley, Rowley" from hundreds of supporters.
Rowley assured supporters of the coalition that he intended to "govern for all of Trinidad and Tobago" and the first order of business for his cabinet was the national budget due by September 30th.
Persad-Bissessar did not concede defeat nor congratulate Rowley in a speech given at her constituency office in Siparia rather than the headquarters of her party, the United National Congress (UNC), where hundreds had gathered in anticipation of victory celebrations which quickly changed to sombre acceptance of defeat.
Prior to giving his victory speech, Rowley told reporters the victory at the polls was "the beginning of another era" saying that the party had prepared itself well for governance.
"We're confident the country has been placed in good hands," he stressed.
The PNM won 23 of the 41 seats contested by some 123 candidates in the polls in what many suggest was a high voter turnout among the approximately 1.1 million electorate.
Persad-Bissessar also fought the potential spoiler effect of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) launched by her one-time ally Warner.
Warner, a politically powerful lawmaker is now battling extradition to the US after being indicted in the sweeping US probe of allegations of massive corruption at FIFA.
During voting, Rowley complained of canvassing by one of the candidates in Persad-Bissessar's coalition, alleging he sent out texts calling on constituents to vote for him.
Persad-Bissessar said there is no expressed provision in the law about digital canvassing, but noted that "it has been a tradition that we don't openly canvass on elections day."
Persad-Bissessar, a 63-year-old attorney, leads the UNC, a party that grew out of a trade union for sugar plantation workers, mainly of Indian origin.
"We must respect the wishes of the people. They have chosen and I respect their wishes. I'm disappointed of course but we must respect the democratic process," she said.