Evidently, GECOM did not seek to deny a credible and transparent process. It was violently interrupted in its effort to complete same. Guyana is a country governed by laws which empower GECOM to conduct electoral proceedings without interference by internal and /or external forces (invited or uninvited) disrupting the smooth flow and conclusion of this process.
The Laws of Guyana, Representation of the People Act (Cap 1:03), Section 84 (1) ‘Counting of votes polled’ expressly states: “As soon as practicable after the receipt of all ballot boxes and the envelopes and packets delivered to him in presence of section 83(10), the Returning Officer shall, in the presence of such persons entailed under section 86(1) to be present as attend, ascertain the total votes cast in favour of each list in the district by adding up the votes recorded in favour of the list in accordance with the Statements of Poll, and thereupon publicly declare the votes recorded for each list of candidates.”
86(1) ‘Attendance at count’ expressly states, “No person shall be present at the counting of the votes except-
(a) The returning officer and such other election officers as he may appoint to assist him in the counting;
(b) members of the Commission;
(c) duly appointed candidates;
(d) counting agents;
(e) such other person as, in the opinion of the returning officer, have good reason to be present.”
Claims by members of the Opposition that they want Statements of Poll (SoP) to be counted in their presence at the national tabulation process is not in keeping with the extant Act which has been in effect under the PPP government since 25th September 1964 and has had amendments over the years. They are asking the Returning Officer (RO) to do what the Act has not asked of him and are seemingly supported by an international observer group whom they have been able to convince that they have a just claim of attempts by GECOM to thwart the will of the people.
What has transpired over the past days with an invasion of GECOM, acts of violence, physical attack on law enforcement, damage to property, a most heinous assault on school buses transporting young children to and from schools, and followed by erroneous statements made by sections of the international observer group is cause for serious concerns and deserving of widespread condemnation.
When combined, these behaviours (responses and non-responses) overshadow the goodwill expected from the international community to not only be impartial and professional, but not to be suckered in by misinformation peddled by some disinterested in upholding the law as its stands. The result of this is a vengeful effort to sway public opinion to undermine the credibility of GECOM, sow public terror and confusion to effectively derail the process from reaching a credible conclusion and announcement of which party will form the next government of Guyana.
It is clear an attack has been unleashed on our democratic process and our national sovereignty is being compromised by foreigners seeking to dictate our responses outside of the law even as attempts are made to confuse the electoral process for public consumption. This is a serious violation of our sovereignty supported by persons Guyana has invited here to observe and freely comment on the process at completion, not rewrite our law as part of the process. Any concern could be noted in the report as recommendation(s) to be best addressed through legal amendments of the Act for future elections.
The intent to disrupt became evident after the Opposition condemned the spreadsheet tabulation of SoPs for Region 4, citing transcription irregularities. To ensure credibility GECOM CEO Keith Lowenfield suggested an administrative mechanism where all can bring their statements and do the verification, and “If, at the end of the day, that doesn’t work, the CEO will be involved with his statement to have a resolution to the issue” (Demerara Waves, March 4, 2020- GECOM resolves vote padding concerns, resume verification on Region 4).
The suggested corrective administrative process (i.e. counting of the SoPs) was however not allowed to be implemented due to an environment which was volatile deteriorated to the extent that GECOM could no longer continue the process of verification. It was in this environment the RO declared preliminary results consistent with Section 84(1) as per “votes recorded for each list of candidates.” The international community was present to observe but later failed to pronounce on the disruption as a threat to GECOM and the democratic process.
Specific international observers and others, fully armed with Opposition ‘facts,’ chose to publicly pronounce on what GECOM’s/Guyana Government’s next move ought to be whilst remaining silent on the Opposition behaviour which sought to stymie the process through intimidation and disruptions. That the pronouncements made by these observers was used to further the Opposition agenda has not gone unnoticed by Guyanese seeking clear and credible results of their voting efforts.
All sections of Guyana, all groups are entitled to have this process conducted by GECOM and GECOM only without interference. Any dissatisfied party has the means of peaceful resolution using the judicial system which allows any and all parties to seek recourse to the highest Caribbean Court of Appeal.
Notably, the Government has also requested a recount of Region 3 votes which that RO admitted denying, saying that the request did not come from the counting agent, a charge denied by the Government (Guyana Chronicle, March 7, 2020 ‘RO denies Coalition’s request for recount on Region 3’)
Those who seek to derail this process through public opinion must know that democracy is not merely about the right to freedom of speech but the responsibility of speech; the right of all, that includes GECOM to carry out duties unhindered, and the right of all to due process in a court of law. The process must be continued consistent with the extant Act, regardless of who likes the law or not and let the chips fall where they may.
We are witnessing the effect of a misinformation campaign on the nation’s political fabric. The international community must seek not to further reward such disruption but must instead encourage peaceful resolution guided by the Laws of Guyana. Regional and international law-abiding community are being called on to stand with Guyana at this point in time when our democracy is under threat and our sovereignty at risk as GECOM seeks to operate within the confine of the Representation of People Act. No more and no less is requested of you.
Guyana Trades Union Congress