With just over a week remaining before the electorate cast ballots in the general and regional elections, voters are increasingly losing confidence in and skeptical of the ability of GECOM to hold free and fair elections (FFE).
This is one finding from an ongoing tracking opinion poll being conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA).
Voters are appealing to and hopeful that Madam Chair Ret’d Justice Claudette Singh and CEO Keith Lowenfield will address their concern and fear about FFE. The poll is also querying voters for their views on a host of other critical issues including on oil contracts, support for the political parties, and approval ratings of GECOM Chair and other public officials.
I have undertaken this exercise and have been conducting election-related opinion polls and other social science surveys in Guyana for over three decades. The ongoing survey interviews voters to represent the general demographics of the population.
Based on the findings of the poll, a large chunk of voters don’t think the March 2nd elections will be free and fair and the outcome an accurate reflection of the will of the electorate.
Voters are of the view that GECOM’s recently taken actions will make it difficult for large numbers of people to vote — that would ultimately create mayhem and suppress turnout, and in the process disenfranchise many that could impact on the results.
Among concerns expressed are: 1. reduction in polling places in many communities that will lead to overcrowding and frustration that would discourage people to vote; and 2. removal of names (non-appearance) on the final voters list (OLE) even though they appeared on the preliminary list of voters or on the list of new house-to-house registrants.
It is noted that too many voters have been shifted into some polling areas that would result in overcrowding and inflamed tempers that would pose security challenges and attendant issues.
Respondents in the latest NACTA poll believe that the above concerns would inevitably lead to, among other issues, mass confusion and frustration of voters, and may make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to cast ballots.
Voters call on GECOM to immediately restore the original polling places and take steps to facilitate easier access to voting. Those voters whose names have been excluded on the OLE are urging GECOM to make amends so they can get to exercise their democratic right.
Almost everyone polled is of the view that GECOM should urgently take measures to allay the concerns of voters, and that would lead to absolute confidence in the electoral body to hold free and fair elections that would be an almost accurate reflection of the will of the electorate.
In terms of polling numbers, asked if they feel the elections will be free and fair, 31% of those polled say yes with 61% saying no and 8% saying they are not sure. Are these numbers a trope or almost indicative of voting preferences?
Asked if they approve of the job GECOM has been doing, 23% say yes with 67% saying no and 10% not offering an opinion.
Voters are divided on whether GECOM will address their concerns and reduce the level of difficulty they may have to face to cast their ballots in a once five-yearly democratic exercise. They are also divided on whether they think GECOM is partisan or biased. They call on Chairperson Claudette Singh to invoke her reputation of integrity, neutrality, and fairness to guarantee a FFE, and one that is free from fear and that will not disenfranchise voters or discourage people from voting.
The findings of other aspects of the poll will be shared subsequently.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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