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Elections was free and fair

Elections was free and fair

Guyana’s General and Regional Elections were free, fair and a major success, Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh declared on Tuesday, even as she called on Guyanese to demonstrate patience as the Elections Secretariat tabulates the votes for a preliminary or final declaration of the results.
“GECOM has delivered free, fair and credible elections,” Justice Singh said.

She was at the time addressing local and international journalists at the Commission’s Command Centre in the presence of the observers and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
She said that GECOM, despite facing a plethora of challenges in the lead up to Monday, March 2, smoothly executed the General and Regional Elections across the country’s 10 Administrative Regions. According to her, the elections were well run.

“We had a very well-run election, despite all of the naysayers,” the GECOM chair said. The Elections Commission, she said, is appreciative of the extensive work done by the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield and his team at the GECOM Secretariat. “On behalf of the Commission, I have to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to our CEO and his hardworking secretariat. They did a fantastic job,” the GECOM Chair said.

But while the elections were executed with minor hitches, GECOM has been extremely slow in delivering the results, much to the dissatisfaction of the masses. Cognizant of this fact, Justice Singh has called on the nation to have patience.

“I will ask you to be very patient; the results are trickling in, and the process of verification is being conducted,” she said.

International Observers, in particular the Organisation of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU), the Carter Center and the Commonwealth, in their engagements with the press on E-Day, lauded the Elections Commission for conducting an almost seamless election.

WELL-ORGANISED

OAS Chief of Mission Bruce Golding
OAS Chief of Mission Bruce Golding

Hours after Justice Singh and the Chief Elections Officer addressed the press, the OAS Observer Mission, led by former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, commended the Elections Commission, while offering a menu of recommendations.

Golding, while addressing the press at the Guyana Marriott, said that based on the 344 polling stations the team would have visited, arrangements and processes on Election Day were well-organised, and mirrored those of the Disciplined Services vote.

“The Mission commends the electoral authorities, including the poll worker, party agents, supervisory personnel and security agents who facilitated the conduct of the voting process on both days, but notes that in the absence of a preliminary results system, the outcome of the poll could not be known by the general public on Election Day, or on the morning thereafter,” Golding said.

While underscoring the importance of GECOM delivering early results, he, too, called on Guyanese to remain patient. Nonetheless, he acknowledged the work put in by the Elections Commission and the other players in the electoral process to facilitate the successful holding of the elections.

The Mission was present in four of the country’s 10 administrative regions, with a total of 344 polling stations visited from more than 2,300 countrywide.

“Members of the Mission reported that the polling stations they observed opened on time, were fully staffed, and had the necessary electoral materials. In general, the premises housing polling stations provided sufficient space for the safe and secret conduct of the poll,” the Chief of Mission said.

However, it was observed that in some cases, polling stations were located on the upper floors of polling places, although there were alternative spaces on the lower floors. Such situations created difficulties for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

“Visits to the polling stations established shortly before Election Day suggested that voters were not unduly affected; the new polling stations were active, and GECOM’s information officers were present to guide those persons requiring assistance,” the OAS Chief of Minister observed.

It was noted, too, that while there were long lines at polling stations during the first three to four hours, by midday, the lines were significantly reduced. Golding said the Mission was also pleased to note the presence of local observer groups. Some of those groups included the Guyana Public Service Union, AMCHAM Guyana, the Private Sector Commission, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the US Embassy, the Canadian High Commission and the British High Commission.

‘A FEW ANOMALIES AND ABUSES’

President David Granger, on weighing in on the electoral process on Monday, said he was satisfied with the electoral process, despite the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition had noticed a few anomalies and abuses. It was noted that at some polling stations, the six-digit stamps were only stamping four digits. The ‘Coalition’ intends to raise its concerns with GECOM in the not-so-distant future.
People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Prime Ministerial Candidate Brigadier Mark Phillips had lauded the electoral process as well. “The process was smooth this morning; I think the GECOM staff was well-organised, and I hope that it remains like that throughout the day. As you noticed, a lot of people came out very early to vote; I myself had set the example,” Phillips said on E-Day.

GECOM’s preparation for the March 2 General and Regional Elections was a long, arduous one, with many delays and “fallouts” among the Elections Commissioners, drawn from the ruling party (APNU+AFC) and the Opposition (PPP/C).

Monday’s elections were triggered by a No-Confidence Motion, which was successfully moved against the Government by the Opposition. However, while the Motion was moved in December 2018, it was not until June 2019 that there was a definite ruling on its validity. That ruling was handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), months after the High Court (Jan. 2019) had upheld the Motion, and the Court of Appeal (Mar. 2019) had overturned it.

However, on the very day that the CCJ validated the Motion as properly carried in the National Assembly, it also ruled that the appointment of Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson as Chairman of the Elections Commission was unconstitutional, thereby creating a void. There were several disagreements between the President and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on the list of nominees to be considered before consensus was finally arrived at on July 26, 2019.

**But by the time Justice Singh was sworn into office, GECOM had already commenced a process of House-to-House Registration, based on an Order issued by Justice Patterson before he demitted office.

Justice Singh, in mid-August, took a decision to halt the House-to-House Registration exercise, after the High Court ruled that while the process was legitimate, it would have been unconstitutional for the Commission to remove persons from the National Register of Registrants Database if they had not participated in the exercise. Initially, it was the intention of GECOM to create a new database from the House-to-House Registration process. Nonetheless, the decision meant that GECOM had to sync the fresh data with the existing data but not before conducting a cross matching exercise which was done overseas.

Commissioners on both sides of the aisle subsequently made several demands, such as additional verification, publication of names in local newspaper and even calls for the removal of thousands of persons who had participated in the House-to-House Exercise. It was not until September 2019 that GECOM indicated to President Granger that it was in a position to facilitate free, fair and credible elections by the end of February 2020.

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