By Kiana Wilburg
A constitutional crisis is being engineered by those who do not want to accept the role of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in rendering advice on when elections is to be held. The mastermind of this crisis is none other than Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.
This assertion was made by GECOM Commissioner, Vincent Alexander during an interview with this newspaper.
Alexander said that the GECOM Commissioners representing the Opposition’s interest, namely Bibi Shadick, Robeson Benn and Sase Gunraj, can also be seen as mere instruments in Jagdeo’s plan. Alexander said his opinion in this regard, is premised on the very behaviour of the said Commissioners.
Alexander said, “…On one hand, it is double standard for Jagdeo to accuse us, Government nominated Commissioners of taking instructions from Congress Place , when in fact it is glaringly known that his commissioners are tied. The PPP Commissioners have press conferences at Jagdeo’s facilities and have not, in any way, distanced themselves.”
The GECOM Commissioner continued, “Jagdeo makes a statement before the Commission meets and they (Shadick, Benn and Gunraj) come and they parrot everything that he says. He talks about letters to the GECOM Chairman being fraudulent and they come and say the same thing…”
He added, “…Let me say this, we are not known to vacillate. Bibi very early in this process was the one who had said we can’t make 90 days. And she sought to have it captured in the minutes of GECOM. And then (she) comes back and takes a different position…Why do they vacillate? (It is) because when they go and they get directions, they have to come and fall in line. And there is evidence of this…”
Alexander also pointed to the walkouts of the PPP Commissioners. He said that the first time it was done, one can see it as a walkout, but the second time, it was more on a technical issue. He said that the PPP Commissioners wanted to discuss the schedule for elections the second time around, and since that was not being discussed, Shadick and Benn asked to be excused. As a result of this behaviour, Alexander explained that there is no longer a quorum.
STATE OF READINESS
There are some who argue that the Constitution stipulates for elections to be held in 90 days following the successful passage of a No-Confidence motion. As such, GECOM as a creature of the Constitution should always be in a state of readiness.
Alexander on the other hand, does not agree with this. He contended that GECOM has sought over time, to improve its operations so that it may be in a state of readiness. Notwithstanding this, Alexander said that GECOM has determined that for the conduct of elections, the minimum time required is six months. Alexander argued therefore that a state of readiness is not absolute.
He said, “…You just can’t call an elections date and get one. Our argument is that the range of things, which have to be done will take 180 days. The difficulty with the situation we are in now is, in normal circumstances, GECOM would know in advance of the 180 days that there is likely to be elections and it is catered for in the work programme… This is not the circumstance we are in…”
Alexander then reminded that it was decided some time ago by GECOM that the periodic review for the list for elections would be held every seven years. The independent body is now beyond that deadline by three years. He said the reason house-to-house registration was not done in that three years was due to the non-provision of funds.
He said, “Since money was not provided, we were handicapped. But then it was provided in the 2019 budget, at which time, there was no No-Confidence Motion. Now that it is provided for, I believe we should use the opportunity to do so. Furthermore, the argument that the said list was used for Local Government Elections and so it can be used again is null and void. It was only used for Local Government because we had no option. It speaks to the circumstance that we didn’t have the funds to do what we were supposed to do.”
In addition to this, Alexander said that the list is bloated by close to 200,000 and needs to be sanitized.
The GECOM Commissioner said, “Some will say that there are controls like the ink but people have been ingenious. There are instances of people using all sorts of chemicals to remove it. So while it is a mechanism that reduces the possibility of electoral fraud, it does not remove it. With a bloated list of close to 200,000 and the value of a seat being as small as 7000, the possibility of elections being corrupted is great…”
He continued, “We want to produce not just a 90 day elections, but a credible elections. We can’t just look at the provision which says 90 days, but the provision that says we must produce efficient elections. And you cannot ignore the fact that the said Constitution provides for us to go beyond 90 days with the agreement of the political parties.”
The GECOM Commissioner added, “The Constitution anticipates that the 90 days is not enough. So to hold on to this 90 days as it if is gospel is to ignore that the book from which we are reading…If there is a Constitutional crisis in this country , it is a consequence of the political directorate not being able to come to a compromise on what is needed .”
Alexander said that it may be a reflection of the political directorate not being prepared to take from GECOM, the body that has to prepare for elections, its advice on its state of readiness and what it considers necessary for elections.
“The making of a constitutional crisis largely has to do with the inability, if that arises, of the political directorate to behave in an objective, a mature and responsible manner given the fact that GECOM is the authority which says we can or we cannot…”
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