By Shikema Dey and Mikaila Prince
Arguing that he resents the threats of sanctions from external actors and commentators, de facto President David Granger says that he expects a declaration of the elections results by this weekend, based on Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield’s latest report showing a Coalition win.
Granger in an interview on Benschop Radio last evening claimed that he fully supported the report submitted by Lowenfield, citing that the CEO’s report, took into account the “possibility of the contaminations” of the votes due to “anomalies and irregularities” in the March 2 electoral process.
Following the ruling handed down by the Appellate Court in the Eslyn David et al case that “more votes cast” must mean “more valid votes”, the CEO handed in a report to the Commission, disregarding the directive given by Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chair, Ret’d Justice Claudette Singh to use the figures accumulated at the end of the National Recount. Instead, Lowenfield used alternate figures, taking the win from the Opposition and handing it to the governing Coalition while also dumping 115,844 valid votes.
Granger reiterated his four-stage ‘breakdown’ of the recount process, stating that the next stage would be for the GECOM Commission to deliberate and then proceed to a declaration.
“The fourth and final stage which we all hope is gonna be soon is that the Chairman will make a declaration based on the report submitted by the CEO… hopefully, by this weekend, we can announce to the Guyanese has been brought to an end and a President will be declared,” the President said.
He claimed that the report prepared by the CEO, was not only based on “tabulation” but consideration was also given to the “anomalies” alluded to in the report done by the three-member CARICOM Scrutineering Team, who overlooked the National Recount process.
“If you view the recommendations of the CARICOM Team,” Granger said “you would see how serious this issue is. For example, the team recommended an investigation into missing documents; it also recommended a total re-registration of all voters in Guyana.”
What the report actually said was that while there were “instances of irregularities”, the majority of which were raised by Coalition Party Agents during the recount process, the team “does not view the irregularities identified, amounted to sufficient grounds to invalidate the tabulation of the votes at the recount and therefore these irregularities DO NOT constitute sufficient grounds to challenge the integrity of the recount process.”
Further, the CARCIOM report stated that “We found no intentional miscounting of the ballots which would constitute an election fraud necessitating further action…Nothing that we witnessed warrants a challenge to the inescapable conclusion that the recount results are acceptable and should constitute the basis of the declaration of the results of the March 02, 2020 elections. Any aggrieved political party has been afforded the right to seek redress before the courts in the form of an election petition.”
Granger stated also that the CARICOM team report, “recommends that the structure of the Election Commission be changed, the present structure will not work and it finally recommended that given all the irregularities which occurred during the period of the electoral cycle, we highly recommend that a political audit be conducted in the operations.”
What the CARICOM team report had said in this regard was that, “While GECOM is described as an independent body, it is undoubtedly a political Commission, and herein lies most of the problems, the paralysis, and the factionalism experienced by that body. The level of internal discord which is acutely manifested in the public posturing of individual Commissioners is the norm in Guyana and unfortunately was on full and ugly display in the 2020 elections and its aftermath.”
Granger has three Commissioners that he has selected to the seven member body – Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman.
Confidence in GECOM
During the interview, President Granger emphasized that the Elections Commission is “bound” to accept the report of the CEO, even as Lowenfield, a statutory officer, discarded 115,844 votes in his most recent report.
“He is the authority,” the President said, “there is no other authority to prepare such a report. He is mandated to prepare a report including the tabulation and also the validation in the form of observations, and if the observation shows that there is corruption then he is obligated to make such a report. That report has to go to the Commission for review.”
Notably, powers invested to the GECOM Chair by the Constitution state that Justice (ret’d) Singh can order Lowenfield to create another report in which all the votes are tabulated. Reports from the 2011 General and Regional elections chronicle how former CEO Gocool Boodhoo’s erroneous calculation of votes would have taken one seat from the Alliance For Change (AFC) and given it to the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C). This would have given the PPP/C a 33 seat parliamentary majority if Commissioner Vincent Alexander had not discovered the miscalculation and brought it to the attention of the Commission.
Then GECOM Chair, Dr. Steve Surujballi, had ordered Boodhoo to redo the calculation, resulting in the seat being correctly awarded to the AFC and the PPP/C being given a minority government with 32 seats compared to the combined opposition’s 33.
Shortly after Granger concluded his interview with Benschop last night, former Attorney General and executive of the PPP/C, Anil Nandlall, issued a statement where he argued that the President “wrongly asserted” that Lowenfield’s report is binding upon GECOM.
Nandlall contended that “The truth is that the CEO is subordinate and subject to the directions of GECOM. Not the reverse. Therefore, the CEO can only act upon the directions of GECOM. GECOM reserves the power to reject any fraudulent report presented by any Chief Election Officer.”
When enquired about where his confidence stands on regarding the GECOM Chair as well as the other relevant parties of the elections commission, Granger was quick to point out that that, “It is not only a question of confidence, but it is a question of the Constitution and it is a question of the law. We (the coalition) have publicly stated that we support the Commission, the Chairman and the Chief Elections Officer. We are prepared to live by the outcome; once the Chairman makes a declaration, which I hope is soon, we will abide by that declaration.”
The President went on to relate that he expects a declaration that must not only be accepted by the Guyanese, but one that must also be accepted by the international community.
Regional and international “interference”
Many coalition supporters have raised concerns over the “interference” of foreign and international bodies that have made pronouncements on Guyana’s electoral process, including speaking about potential penalties for government not abiding by the results of the recount.
“Guyana is not a rogue state, and I resent people outside of Guyana talking about sanctions and talking about penalties,” the President said, maintaining that his government was acting within the law.
Responding to questions about whether he felt that CARICOM was wrongfully intervening, Granger responded that, “The Prime Ministers came and met me, we had cordial discussion and they agreed to a process. Now there is a CARICOM team and the team cannot be accused of interference because it is a legal entity; there had to be a special order for that CARICOM team. We cannot invite that team to Guyana for a function and then accuse them of interfering.”
Earlier last week the CARICOM Chair Prime Minister Mia Mottley, had issued a bold and stern statement in which she conveyed her concern and denounced Lowenfield’s actions after he discarded over 115,000 votes in the report he submitted to the commission—as she was keen to label the report as “shocking” and “frustrating”.
“We must ask – on what grounds and by what form of executive fiat does the Chief Elections Officer determine that he should invalidate 1 vote, far less over 115, 000 votes when the votes were already certified as valid by officers of the Guyana Elections Commission in the presence of the political parties,” the CARICOM Chair asked. In addition to her strong statement PM Mottley related that she had deemed the drawn out political process “gamesmanship”, which does not portray the Caribbean region in the “best light”.
Following her statement many APNU+AFC executives and supporters were quick to throw backlash and share their unkind reservations. Many even went as far to say that PM Mottley was “interfering” in Guyana’s electoral process.
When asked to share his thoughts on the issue the President said “I have great respect for my Caribbean colleagues. They are concerned. Guyana is the headquarters of the Caribbean Community, and to use a cricketing expression they stepped out to come here and bat for Guyana, and I think they understand the complexities of an election in Guyana. I don’t see them as interfering.”
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