May 03, 2020 News
By Kemol King
All of the political parties attending a briefing with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday supported a live stream of the national recount of votes, except the incumbent APNU+AFC.
This was relayed to reporters by several political party representatives and Commissioners after the meeting was held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).
Chair of A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Timothy Jonas, told reporters that the parties present at the briefing included the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), The New Movement (TNM), the People’s Republican Party (PRP), A New and United Guyana (ANUG) and A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC).
The Citizenship Initiative (TCI) and the CARICOM High Level Team were also present.
Kaieteur News understands that the team was given a walkthrough of the layout GECOM intends to utilize at the centre. The team will be in discussions with the Commission.
All of the parties made diverse deliveries of their rationale for supporting a live stream of the national recount, most prominently that such a decision would provide the recount with the utmost level of transparency.
GECOM has previously decided that it would not stream the recount live. The Chair premised her rejection on the premise that Section 90 of the Representation of the People Act, which speaks to maintaining the secrecy of the count, does not permit her to stream the recount live. But opposing arguments have been made.
GECOM had resolved to only give the public intermittent reports of the progress of the recount.
“Fraud festers where there is something to hide”
Commissioner Sase Gunraj told reporters that a representative of one party, the PRP made a delivery that he found particularly important to mention, that “fraud festers where there is something to hide”.
Jonas made a similar argument, telling reporters that fraud, mistakes and errors have free reign to occur if the exercise is conducted in secret.
Jonas, who is an Attorney-at-Law, said that the Chair’s supposition of Section 90 of the Act is not a valid argument, as the Act is not applicable in that sense. Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, of the PPP shares this view.
Jonas said that the live stream would not just enhance transparency, but that it would assure Guyana that the recount was fair.
Nandlall said that the live stream would enhance transparency, fairness and public confidence. He explained that it’s not surprising to him that the incumbent coalition opposes the live stream as he is of the view that they have something to hide.
Presidential candidate of TNM, Dr. Asha Kissoon, said that all Guyanese people have a right to see what is going on when the recount starts, and that she advocated for same during the briefing.
Nyall Jodhan of TCI expressed that it was very concerning to TCI to hear that GECOM had decided against the recount. He said the party is of the view that the people of Guyana have lost faith in the process and want to be a part of it. Hence, “we think a live stream would be what the country needs.”
Of concern to all of the parties was the opposition to the live stream proposal. Jodhan said that Joseph Harmon and Amna Ally, who represented the coalition’s interest, said that they don’t want people to be able to record anything occurring during the exercise or to broadcast any occurrences with their cellular phones. Jodhan said that it is a strange request for a party to make if it is interested in the transparency of the process.
Why does APNU+AFC oppose the live stream?
David Patterson, an executive of the AFC, spoke to reporters about the coalition’s reasons for opposing the live stream. Asked about the proposal, this was his response:
“I know for persons, they are concerned, one, about security. It is no secret that persons have been called up and, well, you know what happens in Guyana. Um, We are not against any sort of, you know, I mean, they said they’re gonna live stream processes, parts of it, they’re gonna live stream, I think, opening and closing and sealing and that sort of thing.”
GECOM did not say that it would live stream any part of the recount. Commissioner Vincent Alexander had particularly noted, after a Commission meeting, that GECOM has opted to “broadcast” period updates on the progress of the recount, and that it had ruled out the use of the term “live stream”.
This was pointed out to Patterson, and this was his response:
“Okay, well sorry, well well, you probably right uhh broadcast probably uhh sorry non technical. I mean, which is, but I would assume the broadcast would be live.”
A reporter then responded that that was not the understanding the media got from the Commissioners’ statements.
Patterson’s response was “Well, okay so um but you pick, you can clarify that with GECOM. You know what I mean, but we of course um want just want the process to be done um so.”
He was then asked about the proposal to control the use of cellular phones during the recount.
In response, he said that persons should not be live streaming the GECOM staff without their permission, and that that is the point that was made. He expressed the view that the other parties did not tell the whole story – “So they only tell you the other half but I don’t think, I mean, and you are a reporter, I don’t think that you are – would like me to come into your workplace and live stream you as you’re doing your job without your permission… If you say that how you can’t be streaming people live, and the GECOM has signed on to that, that is for everyone. If you said you’re gonna do it live, then everyone can do it but persons’ consent must be given… So they only give you half of the objection therefore and I mean, I’m sure I can tell you, for me particular I don’t want anybody coming into my office and videotaping me without my permission or my knowledge.”
Patterson was finally asked, on the topic of the live stream, whether he thinks every step should not be taken, including a live stream, to ensure the transparency of the process.
To this question, he pivoted to another matter he said could increase the transparency of the process, that is, the examination of the contents of the box, ensuring the veracity of all of the contents of the box, etc.
“Live streaming, credible count, going into the ballot box, looking into the list of all the named electors to see who and who has voted, you mean, it’s a list, they have to ascertain all of that. You mean, the media, you seem not to, everyone seem to be talking about umm live streaming.”
The PPP had raised the view that the count should generally be just a numerical count, and not a very in-depth examination of all of those contents. Nandlall said that there are sure to be some minor anomalies, and that he is worried that is a tactic to derail the process.
Patterson said “PPP is saying there will be anomalies, there will be differences. How can that be resolved by live streaming?”
“But what we are saying is there’s nothing wi-if you live stream, you live stream.”
“Live streaming is simply to shame and name and those things like that,” Patterson said.
GECOM makes no decisions
Besides the matter of the live stream, there were a series of proposals made, which warranted a meeting of the Commission shortly after the briefing with the political stakeholders.
Jonas said that the question of counting regions simultaneously was raised. GECOM Chair, Justice Claudette Singh had said that four regions would be counted simultaneously – two stations for Region One, two stations for Region Two, three stations for Region Three, and three stations for Region Four.
The opposition parties were in opposition to this, and generally argued that it would be confusing. They advocated for GECOM to count one region at a time.
Jonas said that his party would prefer that there is a clear set of records and a chain of custody so that everyone can follow.
“That won’t happen if you’re counting four regions at a time.”
The only party that did not take issue with the simultaneous count of four regions was APNU+AFC.
Patterson said that he is in support of GECOM moving forward, and not revisiting matters already decided on. He had suggested that the PPP is using advocacy for an orderly sequential count as some tactic. Asked to expound, he said that they would probably try to stop the recount after a certain region is finished. He did not elaborate further.
Jonas also said that a suggestion was made for all of GECOM’s statements of poll to be placed online so that the public can view them.
“If the original count is vindicated, we’re happy but if the original count is not vindicated, then there needs to be some kind of accountability,” Jonas said.
Kissoon of TNM asked GECOM to consider preventing the congregation of persons outside of the centre. This was an issue which arose at GECOM’s Hadfield Street command centre and the Kingston headquarters. Supporters of the governing coalition were observed to have heckled party representatives and harassed members of the media.
Jonas also said that it is unfortunate that there are only three CARICOM team members, when there are 10 work stations. He hopes that CARICOM would send more High Level officials from its headquarters next door.
The PPP, Nandlall said, raised security concerns, including relations with the Guyana Police Force. Nandlall said the party would be more comfortable if a private security firm works alongside the force. Patterson criticized this proposal.
Nandlall said that the PPP made a proposal for all of the parties to accompany the ballot boxes as they are being transported to the venue, and for GECOM to facilitate the parties as they keep a militant watch over the ballot boxes as they are being treated with at the centre. Nandlall said that the party, as well, advocated for separate containers to put the ballots in, after the count, instead of the containers that are already there.
TCI asked GECOM to produce a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for all parties to sign on to, declaring that they will accept the results of the recount process once they agreed to the terms of reference of the recount. He explained that the impetus for this proposal is to ensure that there are no “untoward happenings” after the results are declared and a winner is named.
GECOM’s meeting yesterday should have yielded decisions, especially on the date for the recount. But there was none. GECOM’s Public Relations Officer, Yolanda Ward, told reporters that GECOM hopes to have the date and the order finalized for gazetting by Monday.
Commissioner Charles Corbin explained that GECOM is likely to sort out its decisions on the live stream and other issues in the meeting of the Commission today, as what has been decided will be in the order.
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