May 13, 2015 News
By Nicholas Peters
Following Election Day, the Organisation of American States’ (OAS) Electoral Observer Mission (EOM) yesterday, released their preliminary findings of Monday’s electoral process; commending the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)’s improved preparedness, but expressing concern over reported incidents of violence in some areas.
This was revealed by head of the OAS observer mission, Lisa Shoman, at the Marriott Hotel, Kingston, during a press conference, where she also commended the Guyanese electorate for the high turnout.
In expounding on their concerns, the OAS official said that any instance of violence during this post-polling period needs to be taken seriously. She added that the organisation is encouraged by the way instances of reported violence were “contained” and “under control” in reasonably quick time.
Shoban noted that instances of violence did play a role in delaying GECOM’s reception of Statements of Poll, citing the incident in Sophia, as being one of the more pronounced cases.
The chief observer further noted that while the EOM received reports of violence, the “vast majority” of those reports were rumours.
When asked whether the OAS had concerns over the campaign techniques employed by parties created division within the Guyanese society, the head observer responded in the affirmative.
“We have signalled that we were concerned about the rhetoric being used by political parties,” related Shoman, “the rhetoric seemed to be harsh, to put it bluntly, and we were concerned that a lot of the statements made were divisive.”
She said that these campaign strategies continued despite calls from groups for political parties to focus on issues rather than personalities.
In their preliminary findings, Shoman noted eight areas addressed during the conference. Among the findings was the issue of timeliness, in which the Commission disseminates preliminary results from polling day, with the Mission recommending the use of technology to diffuse tension and avoid violence.
“The Mission encourages GECOM to consider implementing a system of issuing preliminary results for national elections. The use of technology might serve to diffuse tension and avoid incidents of violence on election night,” said Shoman.
Moreover, the former Foreign Minister of Belize noted the lack of accessibility to State Media on an equal basis for all political parties.
“We recommend that consideration be given to regulation that promotes equitable access to all contenders of the electoral process,” said Shoman. She continued to recognise the work of GECOM’s Media Monitoring Unit in highlighting such disparity in the media.
To that effect, the EOM lamented the tone of political debates leading up to election day, with Shoman saying, that political parties need “to build a constructive dialogue” that focuses on programmatic action rather than personal disqualifications.
The EOM also highlighted concerns raised by stakeholders of a 20 percent increase in voter eligibility, despite the country benefiting from house-to-house voter verification, which was not sufficiently addressed in time for Election Day.
“The Mission observed the lack of a timely procedure for cleansing and updating the voter registry,” said Shoman.
Additionally, with regard to political financing, the Mission recommended the modernisation of obsolete laws which currently allows for violations with few sanctions for non-compliance.
“In order to promote equity in the electoral process, the Mission recommends the consideration of some form of state funding for political parties,” related the former diplomat.
Shoman went on to commend the presence of women throughout the voting process as poll workers, party agents and candidates, along with GECOM’s adherence to allowing such. As Guyana is the only country in the Anglophone Caribbean to have its candidates’ list comprise of at least 33% of women, the OAS called on all political parties to “respect” that percentage in the allocation of parliamentary seats.
One issue that was reiterated during the press briefing was instances of long lines that most polling stations faced. The EOM recommended the introduction of a standardised process to increase the verification of multiple voters while reducing voter waiting time. The Mission’s recommendation stated that the process should “allow verification of electors to enable the verification of at least one or two additional voters while one voter is casting his/her ballot”.
Shoman also said that GECOM should consider special measures to facilitate the accessibility of disabled persons and the elderly to polling stations.
By the end of Election Day, the OAS team of 23 observers managed to visit a total of 379 polling stations in all 10 Administrative Regions. Further, the OAS official signalled that the organisation will remain in the country until election results are officially released under the authority of GECOM.
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