Guyana “needs fresh voters list”; “political audit” of GECOM before massive overhaul- CARICOM team

Caricom Headquarters
Georgetown. Guyana.

The three-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) team of scrutineers of the just concluded  national vote recount is recommending that the next government conducts a “political audit” of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and a fresh registration of all voters.

“A political audit of GECOM (its successes and failing and the factors contributing to this) both the commission and its administrative arm, is urgently warranted,” said the team which included two election experts from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda, and a Political Science professor from the University of the West Indies (UWI).         

The team cited the need for an immediate audit because “in a very real sense GECOM betrayed its obligations to behave impartially and independently.” The seven-member commission consists of three represents from the largely East Indian-backed People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the African-based People’s National Congress Reform-led coalition of A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).

The report made it clear that the recount showed that the results reflected the will of the more than 460,000 people at the general elections held three months ago. “Overall, while we acknowledge that there were some defects in the recount of the March 2, 2020 votes cast for the general and regional elections in Guyana, the Team did not witness anything which would render the recount and by extension the casting if the ballot  on March 2 so grievously deficient procedurally or technically (despite some irregularities) or sufficiently deficient to have thwarted the will of the people and consequently preventing the election results and its declaration by GECOM from from reflecting the will of the voters,” the team said

The recommendation for an audit, the team says, is because of the deeply politicised Commission which is supposed to be independent but in reality is beholden to their political parties in an ethnically divided country. “We insist that to maintain GECOM in its present form would be a tragedy for the nation and the people of Guyana.  GECOM, as we indicated, is a creature of the dominant political parties and there is consequently little interest on the part of the Commissioners in ensuring that elections and the electoral environment are conducive to integrity based elections which reflect the will of the people,” the CARICOM team says.

The CARICOM team said the Carter-Price model of  3-3 and a Chairman that reflects f balanced partisan representation – not unique in the Commonwealth Caribbean – in which the two dominant parties have equal representation and input  was born out of a particular historical conjecture, it has served its initial purpose.  “The time has arrived in the political history of the country where such partisan political dependence must be corrected to ensure the functional and professional operation of that body in the best interest of electoral and democratic governance. The essentially watch dog partisan political party institution (political parties watching each other), have clearly outlived its usefulness and must give way to a genuinely independent EMB (Election Management Body).

According to the Regional Scrutineers, Guyana’s election commission needs to be capable of not only managing its relations with all political parties in the country – including the numerous minor political parties – in a balanced fashion, but one which reflects professional conduct and the ability to act and speak with impartiality.

“Further, given what the TEAM witnessed during the recount process emanating from the Commission particularly with regards to the ill-advised nightly often contradictory media statements and posturing of some commissioners, the disinclination on the part of commissioners to demonstrate a modicum of independence from the two major political parties, it is clear that a reconstituted commission buttressed by a code of conduct are urgently required. In a nutshell, the Commission does not act impartially, given the partisan loyalty of the Commissioners,” the report adds.

Fresh voters’ list

The  CARICOM scrutineers said there was need for a fresh voters’ list which stands at more than 600,000 people in contrast to the more than 460,000 people who voted on March 2, 2020.  “As a minimum condition of electoral reform, the team recommends the urgent need for the total re-registration of all voters in Guyana,” they said in their report which was delivered to GECOM early Monday morning.

“It is clear that given the state of the voter registration of the country that Guyana was not adequately prepared for the 2020 poll. Yet circumstances beyond the control of the Commission precluded this preparedness. It therefore behoves the Commission to create a new voter registry especially given the suspicion that the 2020 register was bloated, a suspicion which is not without merit,” the report states.

President David Granger and his APNU+AFC coalition have repeatedly cited the bloated voters list as a loophole for voter irregularities including impersonation in the names of deceased and overseas-based people. But the CARICOM team said no proof was provided. “. Much was made of so-called migrant voters (out of jurisdiction) and “phantom voters” but no proof was offered as to ineligibility of the persons who voted,” the document states.

The report further states that the team did not view the objections raised by the APNU+AFC as materially relevant to the recount of the ballot, though these objections based on the information by GECOM to their party agents signalled the possibility of a padded voters list which which GECOM , as a body, must deal with expeditiously. “Moreover, we simply have no evidence as to who were the ultimate beneficiaries of the alleged “ghost voting” and voter impersonation,” the document states.

Similar recommendations dating back to 1992 have been made by observer missions from the Commonwealth, Organisation of American States, Carter Centre and the Commonwealth but none has been implemented.

Other recommendations were made for greater emphasis on voter education especially with regard to the handling of ballot papers, by presiding officers and citizens, and a code of conduct for party agents in concert with political parties.

They also recommended an investigation into missing documents.

The CARICOM scrutineers say the many of the issues which emerged at the recount and which contributed to excessive delay in what was to be a technical exercise but which proved to be a political exercise was done primarily with the political objective of preparing the groundwork for a post reclount legal challenge of the recount.

They said they were  also buoyed in our assessment of this political objective given the public statements of the Attorney General of Guyana on the validity of the recount; a  comment which the Team felt was a snub to CARICOM by the government’s legal advisor.

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