Nov 22, 2022 Letters
Let me ignore the bloat in AG Nandlall’s letter in SN 17 November (titled: ‘Names that are constitutionally authorised to be on the voters’ list can never be considered “bloat”) and put to rest his three points of relevance.
First, he argues deceptively: “names that are constitutionally authorised to be on that list, and therefore, lawfully there, can never be considered “bloat”.’ Our focus should not be on definitions and descriptors, but on essences and realities. Being so authorized does not automatically make the inclusion of the names morally, politically, administratively, or plainly sensible. Constitutionality does not render matters problem-free nor fit for purpose—the purpose here being the holding of fair and credible elections. Nor does “bloat”, however relabeled, change the numerical reality that the voters’ list is almost as large as the total population. Again, let us deal with essences.
Second, Nandlall tells us that the list in some Caribbean countries is similarly bloated without a problem. Let us be happy for them. But electoral matters are inherently country-specific. We in Guyana must determine what works best for us, given our political history and culture.
The AG’s third position reaches the fundamental question of a citizen’s right to vote and the CJ’s decision that (as the law now stands) a Guyanese, once registered, is always registered, barring a few limited exceptions, such as death and insanity. As I explained in a previous response to the AG, these rights must be balanced by other obligations, such as the requirement that elections must be fair and credible and win the public trust.
The PPP cannot honestly believe that Guyanese have confidence in a list that contains 200,000 odd persons who have either died (locally and overseas) or who now live permanently abroad. As a nation, we do not trust such a bloated list. And rationally so (notwithstanding the AG’s arguments in his letter in Monday’s SN). Bloat provides ample scope for electoral fraud. The Opposition has produced official reports from the Chief Immigration Officer that show that persons voted in the last election for whom no record of entry into Guyana exists. In 2020, Mr. Nandlall and the PPP GECOM commissioners threatened the commission with legal action should it investigate this alarming breach. GECOM thus backed off and never did. What more do we want to hear?
But a bigger devil lurks. The PPP’s about-face and resistance to cleaning the list of Guyanese living in foreign lands open the gates to external (overseas) voting. Is this the PPP’s ultimate project? No less a personage than Ralph Ramkarran in 2010 (in his PPP days) demanded of GECOM to put in place measures for such overseas voting for the 2011 election.
External (overseas) voting however is rife with problems. Christopher Ram highlighted one in a letter in SN May 2021, titled ‘I support a residency requirement for voting’—in which he wrote “I feel very strongly about any person not resident in and not subject to the country’s laws having the same rights and privileges as those who reside in Guyana.” His position goes to the core of democracy and representation. But overseas voting also presents insurmountable and contentious administrative, logistical, political, and financial hurdles.
If one understands who qualifies as a Guyanese citizen, then it is easy to grasp the chaos and perils into which the PPP may lead us. One can become a citizen in three ways: citizenship by descent (‘law of the blood’), citizenship by place of birth (‘law of the soil’), or citizenship by naturalization. Based on blood, hundreds of thousands of persons born overseas can claim Guyanese citizenship once one or both of their parents are Guyanese. As Guyanese citizens, they have a right to vote in principle, even though most of them have never visited Guyana, have weak bonds to it, and/or have dual citizenship. Perhaps, AG Nandlall can advise us on the rights of these citizens to run for office in Guyana.
The devil then is in the detail in any absolute embrace of the right of all adult citizens to vote. The absence of a residency test severely undermines the integrity, accuracy, morality, and acceptability of elections. The call for a residency requirement as of now, therefore, makes complete sense.
To include a residency requirement may only require re-activating Article 159 (c) of the constitution (a sunset clause that apparently has already set years ago). This article allows registration to be also governed by “such other qualifications as may be prescribed by or under any law.” Its re-activation would reincarnate the residency clauses already enshrined in the National Registration Act. Where is the sweat in doing that? The AG proposes public consultations on the matter. Sure, why not?
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