Jun 13, 2020 News
Former Barbadian Prime Minister and Chief of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Guyana’s elections, Owen Arthur says that the eyes of the world are on the Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), (ret’d) Justice Claudette Singh, as she holds the balance of power on the Commission and will be the decisive vote on the declaration of the results of Guyana’s March 2 General and Regional Elections.
Asked very pointedly about her performance, during an interview yesterday on Kaieteur Radio, Arthur said that though he has not had a lot of direct exposure to her, he has determined that she is gracious and that she would want to do what is right. He noted that Singh is under a lot of pressure.
“She’s aware that the eyes of the rest of the world are upon her. That matters to her. And I think that you will find that perhaps to be a saving grace. Her reputation is going to matter to her too,” Arthur said.
The Commission is set to declare the results of the National Recount, which shows the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) to be squarely in the lead with 233,336 votes, ahead of the 217,920 votes gained by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition.
Despite this clear lead amassed by the PPP/C during what has been judged by all observers as a comparatively smooth election, the Coalition has argued, with thousands of unsubstantiated claims, that the elections were fraudulent and that the results of the recount cannot be declared as they are not credible.
Arthur said that if Singh makes a declaration contrary to the results of the recount, he would be respectful and wait for her to give a factual account of the basis upon which she made the decision.
“Because obviously, she would have had to make that decision on the basis of evidence, and she was a judge…” Arthur said. “I don’t know that there was ever a case in her professional career as a judge where she ever made a judgment on the basis of facts other than those that were presented in the case.”
The Chair had decided to embark on what appeared to be an investigation of the veracity of the claims being made by the Coalition, during the National Recount, and it was said by Commissioners that she collected ‘evidence’ from the party. She had also written to the Police Commissioner, Leslie James requesting a verification of a list of names supplied by the Coalition, of 207 persons it claimed had votes cast in their names while they were out of the jurisdiction. The Top Cop had forwarded, in response, a list of 172 names from the list, stating that those were not in the country on Election Day. However, at least 24 persons whose names appeared on the Top Cop’s list refuting the claim that they were not in the country on Election Day. Many of those persons signed sworn affidavits assuring that they were in the country and did vote on Election Day. Others showed this newspaper photos of their passports to prove that they were in Guyana on Election Day.
Though the inaccuracy of the Top Cop’s report, and the false nature of many of the Coalition’s claims have been well ventilated in the press, the Chair has not made any public pronouncement on how she would be treating with them. One Commissioner, Vincent Alexander has said that there is evidence of electoral malfeasance, while his colleague, Sase Gunraj said that no evidence has been brought to the Commission to support any of the Coalition’s claims.
‘Declaration has to be made on basis of recount’
Asked about whether the elections could be nullified, Arthur said, “the declaration has to be made upon the basis of the recount.”
The PPP/C and A New and United Guyana (ANUG) have argued that any investigation about anomalies and the lawfulness of the Election Day process should be handled by the Court in an elections petition. Arthur shares this view.
“I would have said if there were issues concerning irregularities,” he explained, “that would be as to the subject of a petition. And I think those two things are separate.”
‘No concerns about fraudulent elections on E-Day’
Arthur gave his own comments about the systems in place on Election Day, which he was impressed by due in part to the Commonwealth Observer Mission had reinforced confidence in the safeguards, as it had also provided technical assistance to GECOM.
Arthur said, “They [Commonwealth technical experts] were there on the day itself and ensured that they were rendering assistance to GECOM. I must also say that all the groups that we met with in advancement of elections day expressed the fullest confidence in the elections as well.”
Even when the mission Arthur led went from polling station to polling station, there had not been any concerns about fraudulent elections.
“Everyone complimented how well it was organised,” he said, “and how everything was in good order. I contested elections in Barbados and I also have to tell you that the arrangements for your elections were far more scrupulous than those in Barbados.”
Describing the systems in place, Arthur explained, “the notion that people [voted] who were not entitled to vote, I think, is strange because the voting took place in the presence of everyone who had an interest.”
The Coalition was able to field an agent at all 2,339 polling station across the country, according to PNCR executive, Aubrey Norton. However, it has refused to explain how its agents were purportedly not able to identify the irregularities it claimed occurred, on Election Day.
“At the end of the process, and again this is very important,” Arthur said, “in Barbados when the votes are not counted in the polling station, they are taken to someplace else. In Guyana, the votes are counted at the polling station itself, and the results were certified by everyone who was in the polling station, including the representatives of the party.”
The Mission Chief said that he left the experience satisfied that the people of Guyana could rely on the numbers contained in the statements of poll. Those numbers have thus far been vindicated by the statements of recount.
The Commonwealth Observer Mission had also met with the leadership of all of the parties, including the leadership of the Coalition Government, President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.
“I did not hear of these kinds of things [claims of irregularities] in advance,” Arthur said.
In fact, Granger only explicitly registered his position on the claims of irregularities last night, during a radio interview. Before then, he had stayed largely quiet while the members of his Coalition cast aspersions on the process.
Arthur said yesterday that if Granger does not agree with what his colleagues are doing, then it would be the time to show strong leadership. But Granger, hours later, confirmed not that he disagreed with the claims being made, but that the positions being taken by the Coalition, including by APNU+AFC campaign co-chair Joseph Harmon, were his own.
Arthur posited though, that his memory of the process indicated that the Coalition, a political institution, had “the majority of people in control of GECOM”.
“And it would seem to me that it will be an astonishing thing for political institutions to have control of the process by which an election is being put in place,” Arthur said, “for that party to so have the election arranged, to lose the elections by having the process controverted by having dead people and other people made to vote.”
If he were associated with the Coalition, Arthur told Kaieteur Radio, he would not want to say that, “a mysterious force came in and took other the process that we were fully in control of… and caused it to be so manipulated to our disadvantage.”
People who would allow that to happen to themselves, he would suggest, are foolish people.
“And I don’t want to accuse Mr. Granger or Harmon of being dangerous,” Arthur said, “I am very circumspect in these matters. But I would rather not attribute to malice, that which can best be explained by ignorance.”
‘Accept the results and move on’
As a former Prime Minister, Arthur has contested elections in his home country of Barbados. He urged the loser of the Guyana elections to “accept these results and go onto a prosperous future.”
“I happened to have been there, so I do not speak from the perspective of hearsay. I had the privilege of leading my party into five elections, and three of those my party won. When my party won, I accepted with gratitude and grace and when my party lost, I accepted the will of the people. I felt that I was going so in a long tradition of Caribbean leaders. The men who led political parties in the country had taken their defeat despite having a tremendous standing in the country. We have had Caribbean leaders who had to gracefully accept defeat,” Arthur stated.
In Guyana’s regard, he said that he does not think Guyana should depart from such a tradition of gracefully accepting defeat.
“It is about accepting the will of the people. There is no graceful way to lose the public; you have to say it to your friends, colleagues, family. It can be very painful, but you have to remember that it is not a personal rejection and that the people have expressed their will; and the people are not condemning you by not voting for you, but they are saying that we want someone else to govern us.”
Asked whether the Community would welcome the Coalition in future, Arthur affirmed as he said that “there’s a generosity of spirit among Caribbean people; that we live and let live.”
The experiences of the Caribbean with past events of tragedy demonstrate the region’s ability to handle adversity well, Arthur believes.
He said “I think the strength will prevail, and that the people of Guyana will rise above this too. And you know it is, in all of this, there’s an aspect we’re not speaking about. But it will be good if the children of Africa and the children of India could live in another country as one.”
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