Amerindians faced disadvantages in general election – EAB

Amerindians faced disadvantages in general election – Elections Assistance Bureau Report

(Demerara Waves) – April 1, 2012

Amerindians encountered difficulties before and during last year’s general election, resulting in low voter-turnout, a large number of rejected ballots in at least three hinterland regions, according to the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB).

The EAB- one the local entities that was accredited by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)- found that Indigenous peoples were also fooled on the campaign trail in the run-up to the November 28 general and regional elections.

At the very basic level, the observer mission found that folding ballots was a major problem in Indigenous communities. “There were a considerable number of voters who did not fully comprehend how to fold their ballots. This problem was prevalent in indigenous communities and among the elderly,” said the EAB in its recently released report.

The EAB believed that one of the major hiccups was a language barrier. “In the observers’ opinion there were some language interpretation difficulties in indigenous communities as the explanations given to indigenous peoples were in English.”

As it related to rejected ballots, the EAB found votes rejected due to voter error or actions was 1.2 percent, exceeding two percent in Regions One, Eight and Nine.  The EAB blamed poor voter education in those regions including Region Seven for the highest levels of rejection due to voter action.

“It is noteworthy that the highest levels of rejection due to voter action in the elections were in Regions 1, 7, 8, and 9 where the majority of voters were indigenous peoples, suggesting that voter education efforts may not have been as effective in these areas,” the report states.

The EAB did not blame  GECOM for the large number of rejected ballots due voter-error or action but pointed out that GECOM has so far not developed voter education materials in Indigenous languages and forms of outreach using Indigenous specialists.

Pointing to statistics, the EAB found that while there was an overall 72.9 percent voter turnout at the polls,- the highest being Regions Three, Four and Five- Indigenous peoples did not turn out in their numbers to cast their ballots.

“It is noteworthy that the lowest turn out was in areas where indigenous peoples make up most of the electorate (Regions 1, 7, 8, and parts of Region 10), suggesting a relatively lower level of participation of indigenous peoples in the elections,” says the report.

Central government was also accused of dominating the State-owned radio station and generally the State media to the disadvantage of opposition political parties, especially among the Indigenous communities. The EAB contended that equitable access of the populace to the media has to do not only with the balance and accuracy of stories produced by the media but also the different types of media that are available to communities across the country. The media form with the greatest geographical reach has been radio, which, unlike print and television, reaches severalindigenous communities in remote areas.

The EAB noted that as far as radio coverage and access to indigenous peoples is concerned, it is reasonable to say that the incumbent has enjoyed disproportionately greater exposure in hinterland areas via radio. “This is an issue of concern because indigenous peoples are located in remote communities where their isolation also produces a disproportionate exposure to the incumbent party via visits for state related work.,” the observer group added.

Against the background of State media saturation of Indigenous communities and the high cost of transportation to remote communities, the EAB recommended that steps be taken to ensure that the incumbent party does not enjoy greater freedom of access to information in those areas.

Concern was also raised by the EAB about “gifting, particularly in indigenous communities” in the 2011 campaign period when the incumbent party was accused of using State resources as political handouts.

Indigenous Peoples Mislead

The EAB also accused an unnamed candidate for one of the larger political parties of telling Region One villagers that if they voted for the small party they would lose state benefits like Old Age Pension because the small party would discontinue them.

“Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to this kind of wilful dishonesty and rumour mongering, as they do not have access to information as readily as coastland communities,” said the EAB, adding that has been the case for the past 20 years.

Among the EAB’s recommendations is the crafting of “clear and specific set of rules” and penalties for political campaigns with a subsection focusing on campaigns in Indigenous communities. Those could be, according to the EAB, be monitored and enforced by the proposed Elections Protection Bureau.

Other recommendations include the Elections Protection Bureau fund the transportation costs of polling agents for no less than two different political parties to each polling station in the hinterland. “This is to ensure that indigenous peoples have an equal opportunity as other Guyanese to cast their votes in the presence of independent witnesses,” says the EAB.

As part of the Bureau, the EAB wants an Indigenous Political Campaign Monitoring Unit, as part of the proposed Elections Protection Bureau to monitor political campaigns in indigenous districts. According to the EAB, the monitoring should focus on such matters as the use of gifting to acquire votes; spreading of misinformation, rumour mongering, slander, and use of scare tactics; and media coverage in indigenous villages. Sanctions and penalties for infringement should be elaborated as part of the proposed legislation on rules for political Campaign.

The EAB further recommended that the proposed national registration system for births, deaths, marriages, elections have a unit dedicated specifically to working with indigenous peoples to ensure that their registration is brought up to date.

— Post #1250

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  • Wycliffe Thomas  On 04/03/2012 at 6:08 pm

    I agree. Folding one’s ballot paper was even difficult for the elderly in Georgetown much less the Amerindians. This should be made simpler in future.

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