OAS Preliminary Report on Guyana’s Elections

Pull Quote:

“The OAS also observed a few issues that may have caused some voter confusion on the day of the election. The proportion of polling stations that were changed between the November 8th, 2011 published Official List of Polling Stations and the list provided to the OAS electoral observation mission dated November 25th was high. These discrepancies came to a national average of over 5 percent of polling stations, and were particularly elevated for stations located in Regions 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10. In at least three of these polling stations OAS observers noted that, on the day prior to the polls, no written notice advising of the new polling location was in evidence.

The OAS mission also observed cases of voters being unable to find their names on the lists at the polling centers, as well as long lines and some voter confusion regarding information on where to cast their vote.

In addition, the Electoral Commission issued notification of the decision to disallow party scrutineers to apply for certificates of work and thereby vote in the polling station they were observing two days prior to the election. In at least one instance in region 4, the OAS observed that this decision had not been relayed to a polling station, resulting in lack of uniform application of the decision and the casting of a ballot by a scrutineer. 

· Tabulation and processing of results 

After the close of the polls, the vote counting and transmission process suffered from significant delays. The mission considers it unfortunate that the smooth functioning of the process seen throughout the day was replaced by inefficient procedures and a lack of coordination in the processing and release of preliminary and final results. In addition, at 6 AM on November 29th, a significant discrepancy between the number of statements of poll received by the Returning Officer for Region 4 and those processed at GECOM’s headquarters was observed. 

The OAS teams stationed at GECOM’s tabulation center in Georgetown observed at least two envelopes containing statements of poll being delivered by an unaccredited and unescorted individual. While the OAS has maintained a 24-hour presence in the tabulation center since the close of polls, the level of transparency and access to information regarding the process has not been as complete as that experienced by the mission prior to election day. “

Report and recommendations below:

Organisation of American States (OAS)

Overview of Guyana Elections

Category: Headlines
Published on Thursday, 01 December 2011 04:57

(http://www.oas.org) For the general and regional elections of November 28, 2011, the OAS Electoral Observation Mission fielded 25 observers from 14 countries in 9 of the country’s 10 administrative regions, and has maintained a 24-hour presence in the GECOM tabulation center since the close of polls. A total of over 13 percent of the country’s polling stations were visited by the OAS team on Election Day. The following preliminary observations are based on the direct observations of the OAS team along with meetings with GECOM and a cross-section of government, political parties, media, and civil society organizations.

Observations: 

· Pre-electoral period

The OAS mission notes the significant preparations made by GECOM ahead of the election to develop procedures and systems that generated a generally inclusive and clean electoral process. In particular, the missioncommends the efforts to carry out the 2008 house-to-house registration of electors and its resulting enhancement of the credibility of the list of electors and electoral process as a whole. This improvement over past elections comprises a significant step and was validated by the political parties contesting the presidential race.

Another positive aspect of the campaign period was the adoption of Codes of Conduct for both political parties and media. The effort to instill a sense of collegiality and fair play for the campaign period is considered by the OAS mission an important step toward ensuring a level playing field that should in the future be supported by additional mechanisms for the institutionalization, oversight and sanctioning of these mechanisms.

In this sense, the contributions of the GECOM Media Monitoring Unit to measure adherence to these commitments is considered by the OAS mission to be a valuable tool for transparency and independent analysis. Additional public dissemination of these reports on a frequent basis and support for the continuation of the unit through financial support and institutionalization of this entity would further support Guyana’s evolution toward the presentation of fair and accessible information regarding the choice presented to electors.

As evidenced by the Media Monitoring Unit reports and expressed by a range of parties and stakeholders to the OAS, the current campaign period was characterized by a perception of a limited differentiation between the state and the governing party use of media and resources. The mission’s verbal report to the OAS Permanent Council will address the issues surrounding the campaign process in further detail.

· Election day procedures

On election day, the OAS observers noted that the polls opened on time in nearly all the observed locations, all essential materials had arrived, and that the poll workers ensured the smooth flow of the process. In addition, electors, local electoral observers, security forces and party agents were present and engaged in almost all observed locations, demonstrating their commitment to the exercise of the process. The OAS mission noted significant voter turnout early in the day along with the nearly complete presence of party agents from the AFC, APNU, and PPP/C at the observed stations. Despite some long lines outside the polling stations, voters were patient and orderly in waiting to cast their ballots.

As part of this mission, the OAS incorporated a pilot of the methodology for the observation of gender participation in the electoral process. The results of this analysis show that Guyana has made significant progress in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the political process, as Guyana is the only country in the Caribbean region with a gender quota in effect. The current composition of 30 percent female representatives in parliament demonstrates the country’s commitment to female participation in politics. In this regard, the observed polling stations were comprised of more than 75 percent female poll workers, and the active participation of female poll agents and police was also noted.

Regarding security on election day, the isolated cases of tensions that arose during the day and after the close of polls in Georgetown were quickly addressed by GECOM officials and security forces. In this regard, the significant efforts to prepare for the conduct of the activities within the polling stations are to be commended.

The OAS also observed a few issues that may have caused some voter confusion on the day of the election. The proportion of polling stations that were changed between the November 8th, 2011 published Official List of Polling Stations and the list provided to the OAS electoral observation mission dated November 25th was high. These discrepancies came to a national average of over 5 percent of polling stations, and were particularly elevated for stations located in Regions 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10. In at least three of these polling stations OAS observers noted that, on the day prior to the polls, no written notice advising of the new polling location was in evidence.

The OAS mission also observed cases of voters being unable to find their names on the lists at the polling centers, as well as long lines and some voter confusion regarding information on where to cast their vote.

In addition, the Electoral Commission issued notification of the decision to disallow party scrutineers to apply for certificates of work and thereby vote in the polling station they were observing two days prior to the election. In at least one instance in region 4, the OAS observed that this decision had not been relayed to a polling station, resulting in lack of uniform application of the decision and the casting of a ballot by a scrutineer. 

· Tabulation and processing of results 

After the close of the polls, the vote counting and transmission process suffered from significant delays. The mission considers it unfortunate that the smooth functioning of the process seen throughout the day was replaced by inefficient procedures and a lack of coordination in the processing and release of preliminary and final results. In addition, at 6 AM on November 29th, a significant discrepancy between the number of statements of poll received by the Returning Officer for Region 4 and those processed at GECOM’s headquarters was observed. 

The OAS teams stationed at GECOM’s tabulation center in Georgetown observed at least two envelopes containing statements of poll being delivered by an unaccredited and unescorted individual. While the OAS has maintained a 24-hour presence in the tabulation center since the close of polls, the level of transparency and access to information regarding the process has not been as complete as that experienced by the mission prior to election day. 

During the results process, a number of recounts were called for by the PPP/C in various regions of the country. Given the minimal notice given regarding these recounts, the OAS mission was able to speak with the Returning Officer just after the recount was held in Region 3 on November 29th, and is currently present for the recount held in the offices of the Returning Officer for Region 4 at this moment. The extension of the tabulation and recount resulted in observable exhaustion on the part of the officials in charge of these processes.

As of 3PM on November 30th, GECOM has yet to release completed preliminary or final results from the election. These delays can only undermine confidence in the electoral process and fuel speculation by interveners who may wish to take advantage of the situation. It is unfortunate that, following a generally well administered election up to and including polling day the failure to ensure the timely dissemination of results may undermine the good work done thus far. The OAS mission calls upon GECOM to work diligently to issue the results quickly and to address the operational procedures that led to the delay so that this matter can be avoided in the future.

Recommendations:

Among the recommendations that the OAS / EOM will present in its final report are several areas for improvement to future electoral processes. As a preliminary set of measures, the mission recommends working on the following areas in order to reduce the potential for manipulation:

1. Enhancement of timely procedures for the electoral process.

Mechanisms should be incorporated to ensure sufficient time for the planning, testing, and troubleshooting of issues that pertain to the following areas:

· relocation of polling stations,

· communications regarding changes in procedures and policies from previous elections,

· transmission of preliminary and final results,

· standardization of the electoral calendar with specific deadlines and milestones.

2. Ensuring the chain of custody of electoral results.

The mission recommends that additional mechanisms to ensure the security of electoral results are implemented throughout the course of the transfer of electoral materials between the regional offices and GECOM’s central tabulation center. These mechanisms should include the confirmation of accredited, escorted and previously identified individuals.

3. Improved communications with stakeholders.

In order to ensure transparency and instill additional confidence in the process, the OAS mission recommends strengthening the following parts of GECOM’s communications processes:

· Preparing in advance and standardizing clear communications and explanations of technical electoral issues for the public, particularly regarding the tabulation of results.

· The timely provision of voter information regarding the location of their polling stations, and consideration of including laptop computers at voter information tables to orient voters to their respective polling places.

· Expansion of the service provided in the hotline center to attend the number of queries regarding the process and where to vote.

· Review of GECOM’s internal communications structure regarding the resolution of potential incidents and ensuring a rapid transmission of preliminary results between the field and tabulation center.

· Enhancing protocols for regular communications with political parties and media throughout all phases of the electoral process.

4. Strengthening the promotion of gender balanced participation throughout the electoral process.

Given that only one of the four major political parties fielded a woman at the top of its ticket for this election, and that party leaders have complete discretion in deciding which candidates from the list actually gain seats in the assembly, the OAS electoral observation mission recommends further mechanisms to ensure the continued participation of women in the political arena.

Considering the predominance of women as poll workers and party agents, the mission recommends instituting gender balance throughout the electoral and political hierarchy to ensure equitable representation of both genders at all levels. It is vital that efforts are made by the government and GECOM to promote training programs for female candidates, support awareness on women’s issues, and seek to support legislation to proactively promote gender equality in all spheres of life in Guyana.

The OAS electoral observation mission will continue to observe the tabulation process throughout the rest of the week. A verbal report on the observations and recommendations of the OAS EOM will be presented by the Chief of Mission to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, DC, in January of 2012. This report, which will include additional observations and recommendations to those included here today, will be shared with all stakeholders in Guyana and will also be available publicly through the OAS website at www.oas.org.

The OAS mission wishes to express its thanks to the Government of Guyana and GECOM for the invitation to observe this process and the facilitation of information across the board during the mission’s stay in the country. In addition, the mission thanks the governments of Argentina, Chile, Serbia, the United States, and the United Kingdom along with Elections Canada for their contributions which made this mission possible.

Reference: E-984/11

Source:   Post #910

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