By Kemol King
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) decided last Friday that it would conduct a national recount of all votes cast in the 2020 general and regional elections. But later that day, a partial lockdown was ordered by Public Health Minister, Ms. Volda Lawrence, to last for one month, in a bid to contain an outbreak of COVID-19.
While GECOM is an independent body with a Constitutional mandate to produce a free, fair and credible electoral process, the stringent measures proffered by Minister Lawrence’s order have the potential to hamper the operationalisation of the recount for several reasons. This intersection of the need by GECOM to execute a national recount and the need by the Executive government to protect the Guyanese public from a deadly epidemic have raised several questions.
Can a recount actually be executed with the presence of GECOM staff, electoral observers, political party representatives and the necessary security forces, given the social distancing measures that have been mandated by Minister Lawrence’s partial lockdown?
Commissioner Sase Gunraj had previously acknowledged, in response to a question posed by Kaieteur News, that the measures taken to safeguard public health against the spread of COVID-19 are sure to affect the operationalisation of the recount.
Gunraj revealed that he would be making proposals for the Commission to consider as it irons out the modalities of the recount, with the goal of ensuring that the recount can be executed in a proper and safe manner. He had made this observation even before the announcement of the partial lockdown, which now ropes the Executive into the equation.
Whether the electoral body would be allowed to operate at all, however fettered by the measures mandated by partial lockdown, is unclear. This issue was raised by Commissioner Gunraj in a Facebook post on Friday night.
“The irony is not lost on me that this curfew was announced on the very day that a decision was made by GECOM to conduct a recount of all ballots cast in the 2 March 2020 General and Regional Elections,” Gunraj wrote.
The Commissioner, who is an Attorney-at-Law, said that “GECOM must be considered an essential service”. It was not listed as one in the Minister’s Order.
He explained that its non-classification as an essential service renders it “virtually comatose at this critical time”, adding that the prevailing circumstances make its classification as one imperative.
Gunraj told Kaieteur News in a telephone call yesterday that he had not been informed about whether GECOM would be classified as an essential service.
Attempts to contact Commissioners Vincent Alexander and Charles Corbin by phone were unsuccessful.
GECOM’s Public Relations Officer, Yolanda Ward, told Kaieteur News that she would not be able to answer the question of GECOM’s operations at this time, and that the Commission would have to advise on the way forward.
Kaieteur News contacted the Public Health Ministry’s Head of Public Relations, Terrence Esseboom yesterday at noon. While he agreed to forward the question of GECOM’s classification as an essential service to the Minister, subsequent calls to Esseboom revealed that he was not able to contact her.
However, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo held a press conference at midday yesterday to answer pertinent questions about the national response to the COVID-19 crisis. Addressing the question of GECOM’s operations and the recount, Nagamootoo said that the issue of doing a possible recount is an “anticipatory question” and that “we don’t know if there will be a recount and, when it is possible, that there will be any such recount”.
The PM noted that GECOM is a Constitutional body. He noted the separation of powers that grants GECOM independence from the Executive. However, Nagamootoo said that GECOM “would have to make the approaches at the right time to the Executive in regards to any request to facilitate any process.”
How that is handled will be determined when the time comes, as Nagamootoo said “we will navigate this sea when GECOM chooses to approach the Executive for any facilitation.”
Attorney-at-Law and People’s Progressive Party (PPP) candidate, Anil Nandlall, told Kaieteur News it is his view that GECOM’s work is not hampered by the curfew imposed. He, like Nagamootoo, noted GECOM’s independence, and posited that when GECOM decides to operationalise the national recount, the government should not hamper the electoral agency’s execution of its Constitutional mandate. Nandlall acknowledged, however, that the measures taken by the Government are necessary to contain the outbreak, and said that there must be a fair balancing act between the Government’s mandate to manage public health and GECOM’s mandate to execute a credible electoral process in the public interest.
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