Public confidence in the management of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has suffered yet another blow, with the pronouncement by the elections body that it would require 148 days to prepare for general and regional elections. What this means is that GECOM, at best, can host only two elections in any one year.
This renders a nullity, the constitutional possibility of an election being held within 90 days. It also means that unless the parliamentary political parties can reach an agreement for the extension of the holding of elections, Guyana is headed for a constitutional crisis.
GECOM’s contention that it needs 148 days to be in a state of readiness for elections is palpably atrocious. It belies the competence which one should expect of an elections body.
The Commission itself, divided as it is, should find no comfort in such an announcement, because it means that the country’s election machinery falls short of international standards relating to preparation for polls. It also means that GECOM is slipping in terms of its electoral readiness.
The time given by GECOM for transporting the printed ballots from overseas is mindboggling. In this age of modern technology and air transport, it is patently absurd that the production of at most 500,000 ballots would require 18 days. That is one night’s work.
And the 105 days required for training defies logic. GECOM held local government elections on November 12, 2018. It had held similar polls 20 months earlier in 2016. It had held general and regional elections in May 2015. In three and half years, GECOM held three elections.
GECOM ought to have had by now a reliable and fully trained pool of polling officials who would need only minimal refresher training. Why 105 days?
Training polling staff does not require awaiting the close of nominations. It can be completed adequately on the weekends within the 38 days period from now to March 19, 2019.
According to GECOM, Nomination Day has to be at least 32 days before elections. This therefore means that the elections cannot be held by March 19, 2019, but it does not mean that a further 116 days should elapse between Nomination Day and Elections Day, should it?
On October 9, 2011, Bharrat Jagdeo announced elections for November 28th of that year, a mere fifty days’ notice. Nomination Day was on October 27th , a mere 18 days after the announcement of the polls. The period between Nomination Day and Elections Day was 33 days. How come 105 days training was not required then?
In 2006, Nomination Day was 33 days before the August 28 polls. It should be recalled that on that occasion the two main political parties agreed to a constitutional amendment to extend the date of the elections which were due on August 4 but could not be held by that date. The extension granted beyond the constitutional deadline was a mere 3 weeks.
It should be recalled also that the PNCR and the WPA had raised the same concerns then, as APNU and the AFC are doing now. It demanded house-to-house verification of the voters’ list. The AFC then did not support house-to-house verification.
GECOM at that time pointed out that time constraints precluded such an exercise. It said that the combination of a limited field verification exercise, database integrity tests, and the Claims and Objections period, could result in a highly accurate list. The AFC agreed.
The opposition parties’ concerns about padding of the voters’ list was found to be baseless following a limited verification exercise by the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB). The independent NGO found that “93.99% of the electors on the 2006 PLE could be accounted for; less than 1,046 duplicates existed on the PLE, representing less than 0.22% of the total number of electors; no person under 18 at the qualifying date or who had not been assigned a National Identity Card was on the list; and 98.41% (+/-2.89%) of the electors on the PLE were placed in their correct divisions.”
The Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) conducted a finger-print scanning exercise of 450,000 names on the list and found only a small number of duplications. In short, what both of these exercises demonstrated was that there was no need for house-to-house registration or house-to-house verification to sanitize the voters’ list.
History is against GECOM in terms of its timelines for the holding of general and regional elections this year. Its contention that 148 days are needed to be in a state of readiness makes this the poorest record of electoral preparation since 1992.
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