The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is claiming that the Government, through Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, has resorted to a “blatant” violation of the Constitution “in an effort to defeat us at the November 12, Local Government Elections (LGE)”.
The PPP said this yesterday at a press conference held at Freedom House.
At that forum, PPP Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha said that the PPP is vigorously preparing for LGE, but is being frustrated by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and by Government itself.
Mustapha noted that Minister Bulkan’s issuance of the Municipal and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (Participating Local Authorities) Order # 19 of 2018 is one such form of frustration.
Mustapha said that in the Order, Minister Bulkan gave the name of each local authority, the total number of seats, the number of Councilors with respect to the “proportional representation component, and the number of Constituencies and Councilors in respect of the “first past the post component”.
The Executive Secretary said that by way of this Order, Bulkan announced the creation of one new township and eight new Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, and an increase of nine Local Authority Areas (LAAs) bringing the total LAAs to 80.
Mustapha said that this created some confusion, as Orders #16 and 17 of 2018 created the Aranaputa/Upper Buro-Buro Neighbourhood and the Annai Neighbourhood, but Order #19 only included the Aranaputa/Upper Buro-Buro NDC.
“Most interesting in the list of the 80 LAAs identified in Order #19, the PPP discovered that the Minister reduced the number of Constituencies by 16 Constituencies in 14 existing LAAs, thereby making them the subject of re-designation with proposed re-demarcation by GECOM,” said Mustapha.
He said that subsequently, as a result of the changes uncovered in this Order, a meeting between a delegation from PPP and the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield was held on July 30, 2018.
Mustapha said that Lowenfield was “amenable” during the meeting to the PPP proposing alternatives to the Constituencies identified in each of the 14 LAAs contained in the specific Order.
Mustapha said that having considered the proposal from Lowenfield, the PPP made several observations, which he sought to make public.
Mustapha declared, “Minister Bulkan has failed to observe the Constitutional Provisions enshrined in Article 13 of the Guyana Constitution which mandates “providing increasing opportunities for the participation of the citizens, and their organizations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas that directly affect their well-being”.
Also, Mustapha said that the PPP observed that no consultations were held regarding the Minister’s intentions of reducing the number of 16 Constituencies with the elected representatives of the residents of those 14 LAAs, nor with the residents of those Constituencies. “The Party considers this a major travesty,” said Mustapha.
Further, Mustapha pointed out that having closely examined the specific Constituencies which have been reduced and which will now have to be absorbed or merged into other Constituencies, the Party is of the firm opinion that the proposed changes, would give an electoral advantage to the governing APNU as opposed to the other contestants in those LAAs.
Mustapha said, “It must be noted that as of today, August 20th, 2018, more than two months since the Order was gazetted by Minister Bulkan, the Minister has failed to inform the public as to what were the reasons for the selection of those specific 16 Constituencies in the 14 existing LAAs.”
Also, Mustapha noted that GECOM has not informed the PPP as to what are the specific re-demarcations in the Constituencies in the identified 14 LAAs.
“As such, the PPP is at a great disadvantage. This is causing serious delays in commencing and finalizing the identification of Candidates and Backers for the 2018 LGE as the geographic identity of the proposed Constituents remains unknown.”
Mustapha pointed out that the Bi-partisan Task Force on Local Government Reform (2002-2008) –in developing a hybrid local government electoral system with 50% seats for proportional representation and 50% for first past the post seats—understood the importance of the principle of parity in the number of voters in each Constituency and between each constituency for the first past the post seats.
In fact, the objective of parity in the number of voters in each Constituency was inculcated into the construction of the Constituencies in each LAA after the enactment of the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Act of 2009.
He said that the PPP has also understood and accepted that principle of parity in the number of voters that informed the decision about demarcation of boundaries in LAAs that were observed in the 2016 Local Government Elections. However, Mustapha said, “This recent Order of Minister Bulkan seems to disregard entirely the principle of parity and, in some cases, the size of the number of voters in one Constituency may vary as much as 6 to 10 times larger or smaller in comparison with other Constituencies in the same LAA. Thus, the intentions of the Minister are very suspect.”
Mustapha further stated that the PPP has noted that some of the proposed Constituencies in an identified LAA for change are not adjacent, according to the previous demarcation used in 2016. He said that this has caused the PPP to assume “that some particular principle, other than numbers, appears to be at work and operating. In one of the 14 LAAs proposed to be altered, as many as three Constituencies have been identified for fusion.”
He continued, “In some areas identified for the creation of new LAAs, demarcations of the boundaries of many of the new LAAs and the Constituencies within those new LAAs have not been formally provided.”
Mustapha said that it appears that the size of the population in a significant number of these newly-created LAAs, in particular new Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, are so small that it will cause tremendous difficulties with providing each Constituent Candidates with sufficient sponsors as well as Candidates and sponsors for the Proportional Representation list in accordance with the statutes.”
As if the list of concerns does not end, Mustapha said that the PPP has repeatedly pointed out since June of this year that the proposed creation of the Annai Neighbourhood Council, which would include several titled Amerindian communities as set by Order, was unlawful, and in violation of the 2006 amendment to the Local Democratic Organs Act which excluded “any council established under the Amerindian Act 2006”
Mustapha then said that the PPP has noted the fact that Minister Bulkan was “forced” to accept the exclusion of Micobie and Campbelltown titled Amerindian communities from the new township of Mahdia.
“In the former case, the two communities refused to be part of the new township. It is understood that the Minister has received similar such correspondence from the villages in the proposed Annai Council. However, the Minister has not to date retracted the Order establishing the Annai Council.”
Mustapha said that as a result of all that he has stated, the PPP took a decision to write Lowenfield expressing its observations and concerns. The PPP, according to Mustapha, also asked when these will be remedied.
He said too that the PPP, having considered “the consequences and implications, has decided to not submit any alternative to what was outlined in the Ministerial Order # 19 of 2018”.
Mustapha said that that the PPP suggested to Lowenfield the need for security markers to be placed on all requisite forms to be used as part of the process for the upcoming election.
“This, the Party strongly believes, would help to safeguard the integrity of the process. However, it was astonished to learn that the GECOM Commissioners, appointed by the People’s National Congress (PNC), vehemently opposed this suggestion. This has obviously raised concerns causing the PPP to question whether forms without any security mark are being used by the APNU operatives from the 2016 elections,” said Mustapha.
He added that the PPP remains convinced that these developments point to gerrymandering of the boundaries of the Constituencies in 14 LAAs “and the attempt to increase the APNU’s balance of votes through the creation of 10 new LAAs. Unfortunately, after the LGE, many of these new LAAs will be severely challenged to be sustainable due to the small size of the population and limited resources available within these areas. The government is clearly unconcerned about the post-election consequences to these communities and is focused on their overriding objective to ensure they aren’t slaughtered in the 2018 LGE as they were in the 2016 LGE; thus this expediency trumps all other concerns of the people.”
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