International observer group, the Carter Center, has called on everyone including political parties to refrain from declaring elections results while the country waits for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to official announce them.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, the group’s co-chair Dr. Aminata Touré stressed that GECOM is by law the only body that can declare results. She along with her Co-Chair Jason Carter noted that their observation team will remain in the country until after the official declaration and expressed the hope that the process remains transparent throughout.
“We appeal to political parties to refrain from declaring any results if they want to do justice to democracy in Guyana,” she stressed.
According to Touré adhering to the law is an important exercise of responsibility as a leader. Carter also stressed that while political parties have had access to every stage of the process and therefore might be aware of results there is a procedure for announcing which must be followed.
Touré in responding to questions on the issue said that she was more interested in having results that all stakeholders agree with even if it takes a bit of time.
“There is always give and take between having quick results and making sure that people accept the results. So it is always sort of a bargain,” she explained stressing that for a system to work it requires trust.
She urged Guyanese to be willing to compromise moving forward.
“To the extent that transparency is maintained, to the extent that all political parties have access to the process, to the extent that the rules are being followed…no one is concerned about the time it is taking,” Carter added.
In its preliminary report on Monday’s elections the group commended GECOM’s efforts.
“GECOM utilized its strong base of electoral expertise to conduct well-managed voting-day operations. The voting and counting processes were generally well prepared and logistically sound,” they noted.
With 41 observers the group was able to conduct 220 observations in polling stations across all 10 regions, in addition to observing the advance voting for disciplined forces that took place on February 21.
These observers reported that voting and counting processes were largely well-organized and peaceful, and assessed the implementation of voting procedures as positive, with only occasional inadequacies.
GECOM’s polling staff seemed well-trained on polling procedures and exhibited professionalism throughout the day but according to the observers polling staff were less confident in the application of counting procedures.
Additionally observers encountered political party scrutineers in all of the stations they observed, which provided an important level of transparency. The performance of most of these scrutineers was assessed as positive.
The centre has however raised concerns about the presence of campaigning and campaign materials within 200 yards of polling stations which violates GECOM’s administrative procedures. This particular activity was observered mostly in Region 4.
Also noted was the presence of information desks operated by the two major political parties in regions Four, Seven, Nine and 10.
The Carter Center, has reported that some complaints in Georgetown were received about the presence of these tents within 200 yards of polling stations.
The location of polling stations was during the preparation for elections an issue of contention after the main opposition complained that its supporters were negatively impacted by GECOM’s decision to reduce the number of private residences used as polling places.
GECOM Chair retired Justice Claudette Singh told media that the decision in part was taken to implement the recommendation from the Centre’s 2015 observation group to ensure polling occurs in a neutral location. The matter was finally resolved two days before the Elections.
Yesterday the Center announced that it stood by its recommendation that polling should be held in neutral locations but recognized that in some cases polling may need to be held in privately owned buildings.
They however stressed that decisions about polling locations should be made well in advance of Elections Day.
They also called for a review of the structure and decision making processes of the commission.
Specifically the Centre has once again recommended that Guyana consider adjusting the structure of the commission to enhance its independence, effectiveness, and professionalism.
Currently GECOM commissioners are appointed based on a recommendation President Jimmy Carter made for the 1992 election that has come to be known as the “Carter Formula”.
This formula which has been integrated into the constitution allows for three commissioners to be appointed by the president, at his own discretion, and three appointed by the president on advice from the leader of the opposition. The chairperson is to be an independent person appointed by the president from a list of six candidates that are “not unacceptable” to the opposition. The leader of the opposition provides that candidate list after meaningful consultation with political parties represented in the National Assembly.
The group acknowledged that in practice the six members of the commission are representatives of the ruling party and the opposition party, a partisan structure which has resulted in a highly polarized and sometimes ineffective board of commissioners that excludes newer parties.
Other recommendation made in relation to the functioning of the commission were that it would benefit from taking steps to provide greater transparency.
“[GECOM’s] decision-making processes are carried out in closed-door meetings, and few decisions are publicly explained. This consistently inhibited the commission’s credibility, unnecessarily reducing confidence in the process,” the group stated before advising that GECOM adopt a public relations plan to increase the transparency of the commission’s work to all stakeholders.
The Carter Center has observed that GECOM’s voter-education unit did not have a manager during the period leading up to the 2020 election and that all undertakings in voter information and awareness fell on a single member of the secretariat.
As such though various voter-information activities were conducted by GECOM close to election time in partnership with national and international organizations these came too late and were insufficient, particularly in rural areas and for less-educated voters.
Another recommendation made was that government reassess and overhaul both the process and the technology used to create and manage the voter registration database since the number of registered voters seems disproportionate to Guyana’s estimated population.
A total of 660,988 registered voters are on the Official List of Electors (OLE), an increase of 15.5 % over 2015. The growth of registered voters from 2011 to 2015 was similar in absolute terms approximately 90,000 voters.
Finally in relation to provisions made for disadvantage groups the Observer Group pointed out that both prisoner and persons with disabilities were not facilitated on Election Day.
Guyana’s laws do not deprive prisoners awaiting trial, and those convicted of all but election offenses, of their right to vote but they are deprived of their voting rights in practice.
“There is a prison population of just over 1,900 people, of whom around one-third are awaiting trial. Delay has long been endemic to Guyana’s judicial system, with cases taking many years to come to trial. While efforts to reduce delay are ongoing, pre-trial detention periods of up to five years remain common. There has been no initiative on the part of any of the authorities involved, principally the Ministry of Public Security and GECOM to ensure the voting rights of prisoners,” the pointed out.
In the case of persons with disabilities, there were no special measures in the 2020 election.
Though the National Commission on Disabilities engaged with GECOM to facilitate greater access to, and independence in voting there were no visible results.
The use of tactile ballot guides (“stencils”) for the vision-impaired in 2015 was not very successful, mostly because of a lack of information and awareness and they were not used at all for the 2020 election while GECOM also declined to use curbside voting.
The only measure extended was a brochure to make polling staff aware of positive ways to deal with persons with disabilities in the polling stations.