The People’s Progressive Party (PPP), after meeting with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday and observing a press statement from GECOM released during the meeting, has objected to what appears to be an extension of the statutory period which separates Nomination Day from Election Day.
The press statement is an unwelcome declaration as all the Courts, in ruling on related issues, have stressed that General and Regional Elections, consequent to the No Confidence Motion of December 21, 2018, must be held in the shortest possible time.
The GECOM press statement sought to explain a report by another section of the media that there is a lengthy gap of 55 days between Election Day and Nomination Day.
To put that into perspective, a 32-day gap is provided for by law. The 2015 General and Regional Elections observed a 34-day gap, while the 2011 General and Regional Elections observed a 32-day gap.
The press statement read: “The law is clear that Nominations Day should be no later than 32 days before elections day. Therefore, any time before that number of days, even if it’s 55 days, is acceptable and in conformity with the laws of Guyana.”
It added that the time shift is justifiable, not in breach of any law, and not intended to delay the holding of elections.
To explain how GECOM arrived at that timeline, the press statement noted that, historically, when all lists of candidates were submitted and once no errors for corrections are found, the ballots were sent off to print. It stated, “As such, some mandatory statutory timelines which took as long as 10 days after Nominations Day were bypassed and the contesting Parties list of candidates were approved and sent off for the production of ballots.”
It added, however, that it was agreed upon, on July 17 last year, by co-Chairs of the Operations sub-committee Sase Gunraj and Charles Corbin, that all statutory timelines must be adhered to.
“This proposal was subsequently presented to and adopted by the full Commission,” the statement read.
So, it stated that the ballots will be printed overseas and the service provider has provided a 21-day duration for the printing only.
“Shipping is likely to be 5-7 days which will take us to roughly 28 days.”
Then, when the ballots arrive in Guyana, “there will be a process of extracting ballots to ship overseas to all the Non-Resident Ambassadors to allow for them to vote. This will take as much as 14 days to be completed.”
All things considered, the press statement provided that Nomination Day must be held at least 55 days prior to elections day. It ended with an assurance that GECOM is committed to having elections held within the shortest possible time.
Commissioner Sase Gunraj approached reporters outside of GECOM’s Kingston Headquarters, shortly after a statutory meeting of the Commission, taking umbrage to the contents of the press statement. He said that the contents are inaccurate and that they misrepresent the discussions of the Commission.
He said that the Operation sub-committee had decided only that the statutory timelines catered for in the law would not be breached.
“Every single other activity between the holding of Nomination Day and Elections Day, we decided as late as Friday last, [that] we will make efforts to have that time reduced, in an effort to hold elections in a timely manner.”
He said that the press release suggests that all other timelines, besides the statutory timelines discussed, are set in stone, telling reporters that the Commission actually agreed to engage the suppliers to reduce the times for the various matters to as short a timeline as achievable. He reiterated that the press release is inaccurate.
Gunraj further provided that press statements are under the hand of GECOM’s Public Relations Officer, Yolanda Ward, but that he is unsure under whose instruction she was authorised to release the one in question.
Yesterday evening, the PPP sent out a statement, that the contents of GECOM’s press statement constitute a manifestation of the lengths to which the Secretariat will go to justify delaying General and Regional Elections, as the party’s Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, has said that the adumbrations of the Secretariat are usually in line with utterances of Congress Place. The party added that GECOM continues to invent reasons for lengthy timelines.
It also said that GECOM’s press statement came as a surprise, since minutes before its release, the Opposition, led by Jagdeo, met with the full Commission, and that positive signals were sent on the timeline for elections.
The Opposition Leader raised all of the grievances recently expressed by the PPP about the preparatory process for General and Regional Elections.
“We started the meeting by saying we’re not going to repeat how we got here, because we know how we got here, the delaying tactics of the Government.” He said.
The discussions also covered Jagdeo’s allegation that President David Granger is using GECOM as an excuse for not holding elections. The President had said time and time again that it is not his place to call an election date without first being informed by GECOM of its preparedness.
Jagdeo said he also raised the contention that the merger would constitute adding “unverified data” from the recently concluded House-to-House exercise to the “verified” National Register of Registrants (NRR) database.
Commissioner Vincent Alexander said that he sought to give clarity to the Opposition Leader on this matter.
“There is this continuous mantra that the registration does not reflect verified information. The fact of the matter is [that] House-to-House registration by its very nature includes verification. The visit to the house to register is verification,” Alexander told reporters after the meeting.
The issue raised by the PPP, on several occasions, was that there were no PPP-represented scrutineers involved in the process. Alexander said that the idea of the data gathered from House-to-House being unverified is “contrived”, since the PPP, in calling for a boycott of House-to-House, had indicated that it will not send scrutineers.
Alexander said that House-to-House, like Continuous Registration, gives parties the right to have scrutineers.
“If you do not take up that, you can’t come subsequently and say that it’s not verified because you didn’t have scrutineers. That is contrived.”
In any case, the Opposition Leader also raised the issue that the merger would take “a long time to do so”, and contended that the cross-matching of the fingerprints would not be helpful in identifying duplicate registration.
Jagdeo said that he reiterated his suggestion that the list could swiftly be refreshed by a period of claims and objections.
“We said they should make a decision to start the process by extracting a PLE [Preliminary List of Electors] from the NRR and go to claims and objections. And then we believe the elections can be held long before the end of the year. So we made a case for that.”
According to Alexander, Jagdeo also raised the point that GECOM had repeatedly used the current list without complaint, to which Alexander denied, responding that he had raised issues about the list, internally, since 2011.
This, he said, was because GECOM had seen spikes in registration in certain parts of the country which seemed not to reflect the population.
Nevertheless, Jagdeo said that the meeting was “encouraging” and that the Commission was very receptive of the ideas presented by the party.
From his deduction, the March 2020 timeline recently discussed by the Commissioners is “out the window”.
He said that the PPP is looking out for elections before the end of the year, probably in October or November.
On the other hand, GECOM did not make any decisions at yesterday’s statutory meeting. Gunraj said that much of the meeting was taken up by the Commission’s discussions with the Opposition.
Another meeting of the Commission is scheduled for tomorrow at 9:30am.
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