Elections being rigged

Elections being rigged

When all of the bewildering events of yesterday at the office of the Region Four Returning Officer are taken into account, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Gecom and its staffers are working in the interest of APNU+AFC and  rigging the 2020 general elections right before our eyes.

 The consequences of rigged elections on this country are too severe to even consider in detail in these columns today. It suffices to say that they would be punitive and range from sanctions by Western countries to expulsion from the Commonwealth.  There would also be sharp repercussions for APNU+AFC both without and within Guyana were it to be re-installed in office on the basis of a rigged election.

Gecom Chair Justice (Rtd) Claudette Singh and Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield will be recorded in the annals of electoral infamy in this country were they to allow the current process to lead to a certification of the final results. There is still time for them to retrieve the situation and this requires them to act in the interest of the country and its people.

A crisis point was reached when it was time to verify the results of Region Four on Tuesday. By this point, the regional results of the other nine regions had been declared and it showed a certain pattern in terms of who was winning the general election. Then, the obstructions began to be put in place. The issue was not the manual counting at the place of poll, but the verifications prior to tabulations in the Office of the Returning Officer at High and Hadfield Streets, Georgetown. And it was here, in echoes of less impartial and meticulous times, that Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo fell sick on Wednesday, and his place was filled in the interim by a deputy who utilised a spreadsheet for the verification of results.

According to the law, results are verified according to the Statements of Poll, and spreadsheets have no standing. As it was, this particular spreadsheet which had the tally of all the votes cast in Region Four, was not in tandem with the SoPs. PPP/C General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo told the media that after they started to call out the numbers from the spreadsheet, APNU+AFC had at least 100 more votes than were on the SoPs. Observers and agents of political parties objected, and so Chief Election Officer  Lowenfield was called. He took random samples and found what he subsequently referred to as “errors” in six of eight completed statements, although he made no mention of a spreadsheet.

A Gecom meeting was convened in the light of this, and agreement was reached that verification would be done using SoPs, and if discrepancies were then found, Mr Lowenfield’s copies would be used to verify the count.

All this delayed the process by four hours, but if the electorate thought that everything could now proceed unhindered, they were mistaken. Around nine o’clock Gecom staff complained that they were exhausted, and so operations were suspended again for a time.  As if that were not enough, when the verification process resumed, another uncanny incident stalled the work yet again, the fifth occasion on which there had been an interruption.  This time, the Gecom data entry clerk, having gone through a few SoPs, announced that he was tired. Presidential Candidate Lenox Shuman told the media that around 3.45 am party agents discovered there was a vast difference between what they had in their possession and what was projected on screen.   He said that when they stopped, they had been looking at the SoPs from the East Bank, but when the data appeared on screen it showed Georgetown data which they had not examined yet.

Not just Mr Lowenfield, but also the police were summoned when it was found that the ‘tired’ data entry clerk was alleged to have taken a flash drive containing verification data, which caused party representatives to intervene. The police questioned the clerk at some length about the laptop in his possession as well as the flash drive.  The Gecom CEO for his part decided that all documents would now be printed and presented to the party representatives in order to obviate any further concerns about data which might have been changed.

 Furthermore, PPP/C Presidential Candidate Irfaan Ali told reporters that Mr Lowenfield had given his commitment that contingency staff would be put in place so that the staffing difficulties of the day before would not be repeated. The CEO himself assured reporters that he was committed to ensuring the process was completed.

Where matters relating to the introduction of a spreadsheet and the flash-drive are concerned, there has to be concern that these were an attempt at some level to tamper with results. One had hoped, given the conduct of the 2015 poll and the commendable way in which voting proceeded on election day this time, that Guyana might have finally outgrown its sordid electoral past. But the Region Four problems resuscitated fears and they were brought roaring back to life when the previously unwell Mr Mingo was mysteriously able to summon forth the energy to shout out the Region Four results amid the din created by supporters of the PPP/C and other parties who believed that mischief was afoot.  Why did he not permit the full verification of Region Four results? The verification of the Region Four SoPs must be completed fortwith.

All of the observer groups and the missions of the US, UK, Canada and the EU have now said that the results process is incomplete and that the tabulation process should resume. The US, UK, EU and the Canadian envoys have also pointedly said that the Region Four results are not credible as verification has not been completed.

The credibility and integrity of Justice Singh and Mr Lowenfield are now on the line and the public needs to hear clearly from them today on the way ahead.

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