-steer clear of blame game
By Abena Rockcliffe
While the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) blames contestants of the recently concluded Local
Government Elections (LGE) for the low voter turnout; and the contestants blame GECOM, representatives of the ABC countries are saying that the situation is much more complex.
United Kingdom High Commissioner, Greg Quinn; Canadian High Commissioner, Pierre Giroux; and United States Ambassador, Perry Holloway held a joint press conference at the Canadian High Commission yesterday.
The envoys, who called on a wealth of experiences to make their assessment of the event, said that there are a number of variables that could have contributed to the low turnout, which was below 50 percent. However, they say that the turnout, in the grand scheme of things, should be viewed as a success.
They reinforced their joint statement that Friday’s Local Government Elections were transparent, free and fair.
Holloway suggested that anything that could have compromised the integrity of the elections would have been identified as the U.S. Embassy had observer teams consisting of some 70 members spread throughout nine regions on Election Day just as it had observers in the field on disciplined forces voting day.
He said that his team witnessed an orderly process in conformity with Guyana’s laws. Holloway added it is the US’s considered opinion that the process to date has met the international standards for free, fair and credible elections.
“For that, we congratulate the Guyana Elections Commission, particularly its Chair, Dr. Steve Surujbally, its
Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield and all those who worked the polls on Election Day.
“We also extend our congratulations to all those who contested or participated in these polls, and we look forward to working closely with the men and women who will comprise Guyana’s new local governments,” said Holloway.
He said that while a higher turnout would have been desired, “It is completely understandable that, in the absence of local elections for more than 22 years, there would be some anxiety, apprehension, and uncertainty among some voters on what these local elections were all about.”
Holloway said that for nearly a generation people looked at familiar party symbols. Now citizens were asked to look beyond that and learn what individual candidates and new groups stood for.
“This is a process that will take time.”
“Was it lower than General Elections? Yes it was! But should you expect it to be the same? I would say no,” he added.
Holloway said that he has seen LGEs in about 10 different countries and the turnout in Guyana might have been the highest he has seen. “People for whatever reason decide that this is not as important as the National Elections.”
High Commissioner Quinn told reporters that a 38 percent voter turnout in an LGE held in the UK would be considered quite high. He said that globally, LGEs always tend to have a lower turnout.
“It is not a question of one person or one group of individuals being responsible for the turnout… everyone
needs to get involved. Now the people have seen how the first election in 22 years has gone and will see what the local councillors can actually do, hopefully that will encourage more to go out in 2019.”
The envoy said that it would be quite mistaken if he or his colleagues were to point directly to one reason and say that is responsible for the low voter turnout. However, Quinn explored a number of reasons including the possibility that a large percent of the population did not quite understand the process or why it was important for them to participate in the elections. He also noted the fact that LGEs are new to a large percent of the voting population.
High Commissioner, Giroux said that Guyana is now faced with a glorious opportunity to, instead of speculating, analyze the turnout.
The envoy who was quite alert at the polls, said that he noted a pattern in the persons who participated in the elections. He said that there was a significantly higher percent of women than men and the same was observed between the old and young respectively.
Giroux said that if that pattern is to be analyzed contestants can then be able to have a more interested and informed approach to their campaign in the next three years.
“It is not best to speculate, go to the figures, look at the list, and check the pattern. It will be interesting for a social science study.
High Commissioner Quinn told reporters that some problems did arise but these were quickly identified and resolved.
Just the beginning
High Commissioner Giroux said that the LGEs, coming for the first time in 22 years, mark another step up to a stronger democracy. However, he stressed that it is just one step.
The envoy said that it is now left to be seen how the elections will affect the daily lives of the citizens. He said that Guyana can truly be proud when Mayors and Councillors put processes in place to encourage participation of the people as well as display accountability to ensure that the practice of democracy will be enforced daily.
These sentiments were echoed by High Commissioner Quinn and Ambassador Holloway.
Holloway said, “Citizens will now hold local government officials accountable for their performance in their respective offices. If they do not perform, the people will speak again and new representatives will be elected.”
He said that voter education must be a priority. “The parties, GECOM, the media, the private sector, civil society, and others must continue to educate voters on the process. A process that we hope will continue to be enhanced both through new legislation that addresses long-standing concerns on campaign finance, equal access to media, and use of state resources and through the introduction of electronic registration, voting, and tabulation.”
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