– Cites fair reporting by Kaieteur and Stabroek News
With just estimated days left before the end of the recount exercise, the European Union Observer Mission yesterday released a damning final report that had condemnations for the Guyana Election Commission post-poll behaviour, mixed reviews of the behaviour of other players, but commendation on the reporting by independent dailies Kaieteur News and Stabroek News.
The opening paragraph of the summary goes straight into what expands into a 64-page scathing critique of certain aspects of the process.
“The 2 March general and regional elections took place in a deeply polarised environment” the report begins, “Legal uncertainty, unregulated political finance, biased state media and lack of transparency in the administration of elections characterised the pre-election context, but overall the elections were competitive and contestants could campaign freely. Voting, counting and the tabulation of results in nine of Guyana’s ten regions were generally well managed. However, the integrity of the entire electoral process was seriously compromised by the non-transparent and non-credible tabulation of results in the largest and decisive Region 4 by senior Guyana Elections Commission officials, acting in blatant violation of the law and High Court orders issued in this regard.”
Proving a background into the events leading up to the elections, including the No Confidence Vote and the subsequent legal battle, the report places ultimate blame for the current impasse squarely at the feet of GECOM
“By failing to take decisive action,” the report notes, “as the electoral process derailed into chaos and illegality, GECOM abdicated its constitutional duty to take all actions necessary to ensure compliance with the law by any of its officials, despite unequivocal powers to remove and exercise disciplinary control over them.”
The report notes that the elections were ethnically polarized with APNU+AFC primarily representing Afro-Guyanese and the PPP primarily representing Indo-Guyanese. The report noted that both major political groupings had significant funds at their disposal with no concern for campaign finance transparency with the implicit go ahead from GECOM.
“With consent of the main contenders,” the report noted, “GECOM did not assume its oversight responsibility to monitor campaign finance. Several parties spoke out for enhancing finance regulations, underlining the need for reforms in this field.”
While the report noted considerable bias in both the privately owned Guyana Times, which favoured the PPP, the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, it observed that “Stabroek News and Kaieteur News proved to be rather balanced in their news coverage.”
The report provided a total of 26 detailed recommendations for electoral reform, with eight listed as priority.
Below are the eight priority recommendations coming out of the EU Observer Mission Report.
1. Review and consolidate the fragmented election legislation to strengthen legal clarity and certainty.
2. Launch a national consultation process to overhaul the composition and functioning of the Elections Commission, notably to ensure a more inclusive representation of the various components of the Guyanese society and political spectrum.
3. Develop, in a consultative process, effective legislation to regulate political finance, taking the principles of equality, transparency and accountability into account. Such legislation could pro-vide transparency in campaign incomes and establish reasonable limits for campaign expenditure as well as disclosure and reporting requirements and effective sanctions. Consideration may also be given to the establishment of an independent oversight body.
4. Introduce a legal and regulatory system that transforms the state-owned media into a genuine public service broadcaster. This includes provisions granting editorial independence, financial autonomy, clear separation from any government institution, and an open and competitive selection process of its board members.
5. To foster transparency and accountability in online and offline campaigning, policymakers could consider introducing detailed reporting requirements for those who paid for sponsored materials as well as for those who received payments. In order to enable voters to easily distinguish between paid advertising and other information, any sponsored campaign-related material should be clearly labelled to indicate who paid for it.
6. Adopt clear written procedures for the transmission and tabulation of election results, notably to ensure consistency of the process in all regions, adequate traceability of handed over electoral documents, and possibility for all authorised stakeholders to examine SOPs as required by law.
7. Incorporate into law the obligation to accompany any declaration of results by simultaneous publication of detailed polling station results and digital copies of all SOPs. In addition to the number of valid votes cast for each candidate list, these detailed results should also include all elements of electoral accounting to allow control of their coherence, such as number of registered voters; voters who voted; rejected ballots; spoiled ballots; etc.
8. Establish comprehensive election dispute resolution system to ensure effective and timely remedies throughout all stages of the electoral process.
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