Fears of vote-rigging have emerged among some members of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) as they anxiously await a new date for elections of a new executive. The previously-scheduled date of July 15 was put on hold by the High Court six days ago.
However, several members of the National Council – the second highest decision-making organ within the NUPW – have given the assurance that the poll, which has been put on hold pending Thursday’s court ruling on the suspension of embattled president Akanni McDowall, will be free and fair.
The concerns were first raised by second vice presidential hopeful David Denny in a private voice note which later went viral on social media in which he expressed fears of election-rigging.
In the voice recording, Denny, a supporter of presidential candidate Fabian Jones, said when he attended a meeting of candidates and election workers on the eve of the poll at union headquarters, he recognized that certain members who are backers of the other presidential hopeful Kimberley Agard, were responsible for managing ballot boxes.
The candidate for second vice president also said he saw certain members celebrating that day as if they had already won the election.
“I am dissatisfied with the way in which the election was being planned for the day. Since then, members of the council called me and promised me that the election would be fair,” Denny told Barbados TODAY in a separate interview on Monday afternoon.
“I am part of one team and I see people who are canvassing with the other team were going to be deeply involved in managing boxes and I said that can’t be for real. If you are canvassing for somebody then you shouldn’t be managing boxes whether you are on my side or the other side,” the human rights advocate declared.
“Now that the statement made its rounds, I was told from leading council members when election is held, those persons would not be involved,” he added.
Jones, the leader of Team Vision, of which Denny is a part, said even though their colleague’s pronouncements on the voice note were not an official position agreed to by the team, he respected his right to free expression.
In fact, Jones, a member of the National Council, said now that the concerns are out in the public domain, he hopes they would be discussed and addressed.
“My team is a team where we can disagree at times and discuss it. I respect his [Denny’s] feelings and his emotions and I hope that it causes some reflection in relation to the concerns and that the elections are as transparent, open and fair as possible. So maybe there are some things to rethink now given the comrade’s venting of his feelings,” declared the presidential candidate.
Jones added: “If there is a perception that my opponent or opponents (depending on the outcome of the upcoming court ruling) have an unfair advantage by having too many allies as part of the election machinery, then it would probably call for a rethink of the entire election management layout so that there isn’t, as the Bible says, ‘even a hint of immorality’.”
He also told Barbados TODAY that Denny’s concerns should also now be discussed as a team with an invitation to the opposing team led by Agard, if she so desires.
“The comrade shared his feelings of discomfort with a private friend on his WhatsApp and that friend felt annoyed and shared it with someone else and that started the movement of the comrade’s private message which was shared by someone whom he trusted. That friend has since apologized to comrade Denny for sharing his feelings and emotions about the pre-election meeting,” Jones disclosed.
In a strongly-worded commentary, Agard chided Denny for his remarks even as she sought to distance herself from any perceived or real corruption wherever it may exist.
“I do not associate myself with any kind of underhanded behaviour or corruption, and Mr. Denny owes it to the secretariat of the union, to his running mates, and to the NUPW membership to speak candidly and honestly if he has something to report, and not seek to destroy other candidates’ reputation by nastiness and innuendo,” Agard, a member of the council stated.
“I have no knowledge of what Mr. Denny witnessed or did not witness. However, it is scandalous that he, being also a candidate, could seek to impugn the very electoral process that he approved and helped to put in place at a meeting at NUPW HQ that very evening,” she pointed out.
The presidential hopeful told Barbados TODAY that there was nothing out of the ordinary regarding the union members who were selected to manage the ballot boxes.
“To my certain knowledge, the same persons who were asked to take charge of the ballot boxes are those who have been in charge of the ballot boxes for over two decades now. As a candidate, I put my trust in the system that has served us well over the years,” Agard said.
She said that with a court hearing going on the eve of the poll, she could not imagine that any right-thinking member of the union could have had any reason to celebrate.
“The decision to run for the presidency of the NUPW came out of my commitment to the union and the desperate need to stop the bleeding and the downward spiral of this organisation,” she stated.
The day before the election, the High Court granted McDowall an injunction putting the voting on hold until further order.
Justice Cecil McCarthy reserved his decision on the substantive issue of the suspension of the embattled president until Thursday.
McDowall has also asked the court to make an order that would give him two weeks to make up for lost election campaign time which he was deprived when he was shut out from running for re-election due to his suspension on disciplinary charges.
Acting General Secretary of the NUPW Wayne Walrond could not be reached for comment.