“I have to make it absolutely clear that GECOM is not and will never be involved, as has been surreptitiously suggested, in any clandestine machinations with any political party, nor do we rig elections. Let that sink into the psyche of the doubt casters.”
Those were the words of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Dr Steve Surujbally, as he defended the delay in releasing the final results of the 2011 National Elections, even describing the lambasting of GECOM as hypocritical.
Addressing the media, Elections Observers and members of the Diplomatic Corps, just before the announcement of the results by Chief Elections Officer Gocool Bodhoo, the GECOM Chairman said that the Commission has held fast to its mandate and to the laws that govern its actions and methodology, and has delivered a result that can withstand scrutiny, “even in the face of flak from an uncomprehending and sometimes, unsympathetic public.”
“When you hear all the grandstanding about the time it takes for the process to unfold, well, the purveyors of such sentiments can only be categorized as disingenuous, perhaps hypocritical …the word I would like to use is perfidious,” Dr Surujbally asserted.
The Commission had incurred the wrath of many stakeholders including political parties contesting the elections, and international groups for the delay in releasing the final results.
In fact, it took them nearly 72 hours after the closing of polls to provide an anxious populace with the results, fuelling speculations of skullduggery and complicity.
There were several postponements of the final announcement, and even up to yesterday, reporters and other stakeholders were treated to three 30-minute delays until the Chief Elections Officer arrived at the GECOM Media Centre, in the Pegasus Hotel, to make the announcement.
The GECOM Chairman noted thoughtfully that elections “are arguably the single most important tile in the complex mosaic of democracy and that is why the stakeholders must at all times try to get it right”.
He explained that in light of this, the results, which were derived from the elections that were conducted in accordance with international best practices, must be absolutely accurate and unchallengeable.
He acknowledged that the delay had caused some impatience, which reflected itself in genuine or feigned peevishness.
However, he urged that the nation think about the alternative if the Elections Commission did not pursue the path that it did.
“If we were to make unsubstantiated and incorrect declarations, the possible repercussive effects could be hideous and too tragic to even contemplate.”
“Certainly we could have accepted telephone calls throughout the night of November 28th, relaying the results, as some people had suggested… we would have made the necessary calculations based on the information received from the presiding officers by phone and…the results are declared on the 29th and then those who are saying that we took too long would be very happy.
Apart from being in contravention of the laws associated with the declaration of results, that would have been a recipe for disaster,” Surujbally stated.
“Only ill-formed people could advocate such a proposal,” he added.
The procedure for the receipt and compilation of the results of the elections prescribes that when the individual statements of polls are received at the GECOM Command Centre from their respective polling stations, they have to be checked for accuracy.
Then the results delineated on the statements of poll have to be double checked with those in the possession of the respective returning officers, thus ensuring that they collectively represent the totality of the results of the balloting which were conducted at the various polling stations within the particular districts.
“If an error is detected, the process for that district cannot and will not go forward,” Dr. Surujbally said.
He added that those who have been criticising GECOM for the delay, will be the first to accuse the commission of breaking the law.
“The Chief Elections Officer cannot and will not unilaterally make changes to the results prepared by any returning officer. That, too, is what the law dictates,” the GECOM Chairman said.
According to Surujbally, despite all the criticisms, he is not aware of any political party even remotely, even by inference, suggesting any departure from the legal procedures.
He said that while he acknowledged the anxieties of the society, he is sure that the citizenry will accept the correct results.
“It must be understandable to all concerned that if takes two and a half days to arrive at the final incontestable result, no one should be disheartened.”
Surujbally said that despite all of this, the world is now in the electronic age, where it has been proven that in a country such as India, where 760 million people go to the polls, and by night the results are known.
“Accordingly, I hereby give a commitment that I will try my utmost to pursue an initiative for a pilot project to carry out a comparative voting system when we embark on the preparations for local government elections next year. And I need your collective support on the matter,” Dr Surujbally said.
He expressed gratitude to the staff of the elections commission, whom he said have had to endure immense pressure since the commencement of the house to house registration, through to the extension of the claims and objections period, and the preparations for Local Government Elections that eventually did not take place in April last year.
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