By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
At a time when Guyana is supposed to be speedily gearing for General and Regional Elections, even the Voters’ List is something that the main political parties cannot agree on at the level of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Today marks 60 days since the Bharrat Jagdeo-sponsored no-confidence motion was passed against the APNU+AFC government.
According to the constitution, the passage of a no-confidence motion results in the automatic fall of government and elections are to be held within three months. However, just a few days shy of two months after the motion was passed, no date for elections has been given.
It is well known that the government has filed an appeal to the Chief Justice’s interpretation to the effect that elections are due in keeping with the constitution. But, while the country awaits the completion of the court process that promises to be expeditious, GECOM is supposed to be readying itself.
Based on the constitutionally-mandated period for the holding of elections, the date should be March 21. But GECOM is claiming that it cannot be ready by then.
Kaieteur News understands that GECOM is looking at July or next February.
If there is a decision for house-to-house registration, GECOM will be ready by February next year. But if there is a decision to only facilitate claims and objections, GECOM will be ready by July.
But are any of those two options necessary? People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Members on GECOM are saying, “No.”
The Commissioners are sticking to their guns that the current Voters’ List is valid until April 30, which is more than a month after the constitutionally-mandated period for elections would have elapsed.
This newspaper spoke to PPP Commissioner Sase Gunraj yesterday. He said that he is failing to understand the call for a new list.
“The list was used last in 2018 for Local Government Elections. You did not hear so much as a coo from any stakeholders in relation to the validity or otherwise of that list. That very list was used in 2016 and there were no complaints. It is also the same list that was used for the 2015 elections that saw the APNU+AFC taking over.”
Further, Commissioner Gunraj sought to point out that this is the first time elections are required at a time when there is a valid list in accordance with the law, “and we should remember that and act accordingly.”
He said that at every other election, there was either need for house-to-house registration or claims and objections in order to make the list valid. This was the case even in 2015 when the last General and Elections were held.
Even further, Gunraj cited Act number 10 of 2018, which extends the validity of the list from three months after it has been certified to six months. He noted that the list was last certified on 31 October 2018 for the holding of Local Government elections “so it is still valid and should be used to uphold the constitutionally mandated timeline for elections but they are delaying.”
Stakeholders had raised concerns about dead people on the list and the absence of persons who are newly eligible to vote.
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has offered a solution to address the presence of names of people who are dead. He suggested that GECOM just hold a short period of claims and objections “take off the dead people and let’s get on with it.”
But Jagdeo did not address the concern for those who are newly 18.
Gunraj took up that mantle yesterday. He said, “The constitution states that all persons over 18 are eligible to vote. However, the same constitution provides two conditions: you must be 18 years old at the qualifying date and you must be registered.” He said that someone can become 18 days or months after registration closes, “What are we to do?”
While the PPP is steadfast in its position that there is no need for a new list, APNU and the AFC believe that a new list is imperative.
APNU Commissioner, Vincent Alexander spoke to this newspaper. He said that the PPP is being disingenuous.
Alexander said that the PPP, in its elections petition to the court, raised issues about the list. “So they are being dishonest to say there were no issues.”
However, further to PPP’s concerns in 2015, that list was used at two other elections—Local Government Elections of 2016 and 2018.
Despite that, Alexander pointed to another reason why there should be a new list. He said that it was “agreed since 2012 that we will have a new list every seven years. Seven years have gone.”
Further, Alexander said that when PPP’s Robeson Benn joined GECOM after the 2015 elections, “his biggest issue from day one was that the list is flawed. So people are being disingenuous or dishonest when they talk about the list.”
While Alexander pointed out the concerns raised by PPP about the list, he did not speak about any dissatisfaction that APNU or the AFC had with the list prior to the passage of the no-confidence motion.
Asked if any concerns were raised by APNU or the AFC before the no-confidence motion, the APNU Commissioner said, “My concern is not the APNU, PPP or the AFC. My concern is that as a commissioner, I have a responsibility to make sure that we have elections that gives everybody a fair chance. So I do not respond to the APNU or AFC or PPP concerns with being partisan. I respond based on my knowledge of the electoral system and where I feel something is going wrong.”
As he pointed out that he is the longest serving commissioner on GECOM (since 2007), Alexander said, “The fact of the matter is that we have a list that is over 500,000 (573,923) people and our population is just over 700,000. This means that the list could only be bloated.”
He continued, “We had problems in the 1997 elections where people were staging substitute voting. It was brought to (former Chief Elections Officer Gocool) Boodoo’s attention, he promised to look into it, and he did nothing about it. I know that there is a practice of substitute voting and any list that has excess names provides an opportunity for that (substitute voting) and I would not be party to that.”
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