It could not have been a closer finish. The preliminary results of the general elections of 2015 indicated a tight race between the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) and the opposition coalition comprising A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC).
In the end, APNU+AFC squeezed home, that is according to the preliminary count, by a mere 5,360 votes in an election in which a little over 410,000 valid votes were cast. This has to be closest electoral race in the history of the Caribbean.
No wonder the People’s Progressive Party feels aggrieved that its request for a recount in District 4, the largest district in the country, was denied. This is the region that has the largest bloc of votes and the one where there was most likely to be a greater number of irregularities.
One reporter asked a Guyana Elections Commission official whether the Returning Officer of that District had given any reasons for the refusal to approve of the recount. The answer was a comment to the effect that the reporter was asking if reasons were given for the denial, when in fact no reason was given in the first place for the request for the recount.
In other words, what was being said was that since the PPPC did not adduce any reasons for requesting the count, it should not expect any reason to be provided for the denial.
The law, however, does require that the PPPC give a reason for requesting a recount. The Returning Officer can refuse the request if he or she feels that it is unreasonable, but the fact that the request is unreasonable does not mean that a reason has to be given.
“Unreasonable” is not a euphemism for “no reason given”, in the same way as “legal” is not synonym for “fair”. But do not tell that to some legal luminaries in the APNU+AFC camp.
Many years ago, there was a close electoral race for the Presidency of the United States. The race was so close that there had to be a recount of votes cast in a certain State. In fact, the person who had originally conceded that he lost turned out to be the winner in the recount. The American people bore up with the recount process, because they saw it as an essential part of the democratic process.
The PPPC therefore can justly feel aggrieved at not being afforded the opportunity to prove that they had in fact secured sufficient votes to win the elections. But the law is the law and the law is not always fair. The law gives the discretion to the Returning Officers to determine whether a recount should take place. So long as the Returning Officers feel that a request is unreasonable they can refuse the recount.
It is doubtful whether a recount would have reversed the 5,360-vote gap which APNU+AFC held over the PPPC. (This is based purely on the preliminary count). In such a close electoral race, however, a total recount of all the votes would have been beneficial to all concerned. It would have added further confidence to the electoral process and would have served the wider interest of democracy. But such a luxury is apparently reserved for Americans and not for Guyanese.
APNU+AFC was however keen to avoid the recount in Region Four. It panicked when it heard that the PPPC wanted a recount of certain polling stations in that Region. It even said that reasons had to be provided for a recount, but did not provide any legal basis for this. Its mouthpieces in the media even went as far as arguing that there was even a time limitation.
All of that is now history. Guyana will have a new President, a new government, new ruling party and a new opposition party in the next parliament. Guyana must move forward after very divisive elections, but it should preserve the lessons of this experience, including ensuring in the future that no recount is subject to the discretion of a Returning Officer.
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