By Kemol King
Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, managed to convince the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday to add 12 new polling places in areas the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) thought there was a congestion of voters.
The decision of the Commission was relayed to reporters after a statutory meeting of the Commission last night.
Jagdeo led a delegation at noon to the Commission’s Kingston office, to make a case to the Commissioners and the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, that the reduction of private polling stations was applied discriminatorily.
By this, he meant that reductions in the use of private residences as polling places in PPP strongholds was not reflected by similar reductions in strongholds of the governing coalition, A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).
Jagdeo said he had cause to ask Lowenfield why the reduction in the use of private polling places was not reflected similarly in the Coalition strongholds, after Lowenfield explained that it was the Commissioners who instructed him to reduce the use of private polling stations as much as he could.
The CEO had told reporters just days ago that, where private polling stations remained, it was because GECOM could not find sufficient public polling places to substitute them.
Subsequently, the former President made suggestions for an increase of at least 12 polling places in key areas purported to be PPP strongholds, namely Mon Repos and Foulis, East Coast Demerara and Chesney, Corentyne.
“We said we’re not telling [GECOM] where to choose,” Jagdeo said.
“You select where they are… It can be anything. You can even put up tents but people have a right to vote in their own communities.”
The Opposition had raised the concern that the reduction in the use of private polling places in the aforementioned areas would cause many people to have to travel longer distances to vote, something the party feared could have suppressed its voter base.
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) released a statement yesterday, sharing the view that the reduction in certain areas “could well be deemed as voter suppression”.
It stated, “This is certainly not a positive development and we endorse calls for the GECOM to address this significant issue meaningfully in the interest of all Guyanese.”
The Opposition Leader raised the claim by the GECOM Chair, Justice Claudette Singh, that the decision to reduce the use of private polling places was based on a recommendation of the Carter Center.
The Private Sector Commission (PSC) had come out with a statement last Monday, condemning the Chair’s statement, alleging it to be false.
Similarly, Jagdeo yesterday said that a meeting of the Opposition with the Carter Center led the party to understand that the Center did not recommend a reduction in the use of private polling stations.
While the Carter Center did not directly make a recommendation on the use of private polling stations, it did address the use of private polling stations in its final report on the 2015 general and regional elections.
The report, titled ‘Final Report: Observing the 2015 Guyana Elections’, can be accessed from the following page on the Carter Center’s website: https://www.cartercenter.org/news/publications/election_reports.html#guyana
On page 77 of the report, it is stated, “While the establishment of polling stations on private property did not seem to negatively influence public confidence in the electoral process, GECOM should ensure that citizens can cast their ballot in a neutral environment”.
Again, on page 94, it is stated, “While the establishment of polling stations on private property did not seem to negatively influence public confidence in the electoral process, The Carter Center recommends that GECOM take steps in future elections to ensure that citizens can cast their ballot in a neutral environment free from intimidation.”
GECOM is likely to have made its decision based on those statements.
Late last night, Commissioners emerged from the building and spoke to reporters outside the compound.
Government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander said that Lowenfield is now entrusted with the task of reviewing the list and determining mechanisms to be made “including the possibility of tentage” to reduce the congestion of polling stations. The process would entail moving some of the polling stations that are said to be congested, he explained, to new areas.
Opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj told reporters, “While I agree with a reduction [in the use of private polling places] – hopefully future elimination of use of private residences as polling stations – logistics, efficiency and accessibility by voters cannot be sacrificed in that regard. I’m happy that these changes are being made to take that into consideration.”
Lowenfield is expected to conduct the review, but is not expected to return to the Commission for it to deem the adjustment acceptable, according to Alexander.
“I don’t think he has to come back to the Commission. I think we’re at the point in time where we just have to go on and do what we have to do.”
It is expected that the list of polling places and stations will be gazetted soon after the adjustments are made. Gunraj hopes that such is done within 24 hours.
The Commission meets again today.
Apr 06, 2020By Zaheer Mohamed Port Kaituma Football Foundation (PKFF) is one of the leading sports organisations in Region One. The body was formed in 2009 with the aim of developing sports in the area. Its...
Editor’s Note, If your sent letter was not published and you felt its contents were valid and devoid of libel or personal attacks, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: glen[email protected] / [email protected]