If the Guinness Book of Records were to establish a category for the longest delay in announcement of results of national elections in inverse proportion to the size of the voting population, Guyana would undoubtedly have been the repeated undisputed record holder for at least the last 25 years. The country can “pride itself” not only on this unenviable record but also on the accompanying record of the largest number of days of national productive activity lost following national elections while a nation waits nervously for the official announcement of the results of its national elections.
The official argument for faithfully defending its record of delays in announcement of national election results is that the country has such a large percentage of its voting population living in inaccessible areas that it can take up to a week for these results to be included in the overall result count. In fact, for example, Region 1, one of the so called “remote hinterland areas” in the North West of the country is usually one of the earliest to submit its official results to GECOM, and in one election during the period was the first to confirm its results, days before those of Region 4 that includes the capital.
Venezuela has a population of 32 million, 40 times that of Guyana. Its indigenous population living mostly in “remote hinterland” areas very similar to its neighbour Guyana, numbers 950,000 larger than the entire population of Guyana. Based on official Guyana explanations of why it takes so long to count its votes, how long on average, you ask, should it take for Venezuela to declare election results? The answer is under 12 hours, not 12 days. Mexico has a population of 130 million, including some 10 million indigenous people living in small remote communities without internet access. How long did it take for its Election Commission to announce Mexico´s 2018 election results bringing a radical change from neoliberal parties that dominated Mexican politics for the previous 4 decades? At 9 p.m. on election day, 3 hours after the close of polls, based on the results of its own preliminary count the Chairman of the Elections Commission addressed the nation on all media outlets announcing that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would be the new president of Mexico, paving the way for a huge but totally peaceful transition in power.
There must be, therefore, other reasons that Guyana defends its unchallenged record of delays in the announcement of election results. At every polling place in Guyana, the votes are counted in the presence of all political party represented who sign copies of the Statement of Poll, one of which is posted outside the polling station on public display (as happens in all countries with democratic polling systems). By the time the individual polling place results are posted the political parties, including the 2 major parties competing in all 10 regions, will know (and have always known) who are the winners. So too GECOM. In elections at the beginning of this century, donors were requested and provided funding to GECOM to enable copies of Statements of Poll to be immediately transmitted electronically to the GECOM headquarters.
By 9 p.m. on elections night the main players the political parties, and GECOM, (dominated by representatives of the two major parties) have had no doubt as to who has won the elections. The only ones kept in the dark for the preservation of the Guyana Delayed Election Results Record have been the main stakeholders in the entire process, i.e. the Guyanese people.
And while the people are kept in suspense and ignorance, the political parties have a broad and unchallenged hand to implement their “post-elections strategies” to the past detriment of the country provoked by accusations and counter accusations of fraud, wild and incendiary claims by rival parties that “we won the election” and ”we were robbed”, demonstrations and counter demonstrations in which rank and file party supporters participate blindly trusting untested claims without access to the accurate, full information that the leadership “very well knew” from a couple hours after the close of polling.
Information confers power, and the withholding of information to the many allows them to be manipulated by the few in their own narrow interests.
In a press statement last week on the current election process the Guyana Human Rights Association made a plea that “Announcement of election results should aim to be completed within a day or two of voting. Every polling station publicly announces its results by the end of polling day, with the Statement of Poll signed off by all political parties monitoring the count. The practice of GECOM then keeping the nation in suspense for a week or more is utterly indefensible in such a small State.”
Will Guyana maintain and extend its dismal record in 2020? The temptation to deny prompt information to the public, especially when politically parties have been allowed to do so for so many elections without loss or credibility or sanction as they seek to consolidate their agendas and further racially polarize the population will indeed be a strong one. On the other hand, as Christ reminds us, “Only the truth shall set you free”, and the sooner the better, including for political leaders who need to be freed of the illusion that deliberate delay in honestly sharing information gives them true power.
Let us all sincerely hope Guyana loses that sad Election Results Delay record by 3 March 2020.