Despite an injunction in place preventing it from making a declaration of the total vote count from last Monday’s elections, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday continued to move ahead to finalise the results, with Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield requesting that a meeting be called so that he may submit his final report.
The GECOM Secretariat yesterday also published on its website what it called the “certified” copies of the declarations submitted to the CEO by each of the Returning Officers for the ten electoral districts, including for Region Four. These results have been mired in controversy as international, regional and local observer missions have said the tabulation was not completed in keeping with the law. Questions also remain about the final count in regions Three, Five and Six.
However, Lowenfield yesterday wrote to GECOM Chairperson Claudette Singh requesting the meeting so that he could submit his final report.
Lowenfield made the request via an email to Singh, which was copied to opposition-nominated commissioners, who released it to the press.
The email was written several hours after Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire committed to ruling today on whether the High Court can hear an application to bar the final declaration of results until the completion of a verification process at the level of the District Four Returning Officer. Based on the application, an injunction was granted by Justice Navindra Singh on Thursday restraining GECOM, either by itself, its servants and/or agents “from declaring the total number of valid votes of electors for each list of candidates” recorded in the March 2 general and regional elections.
In the email, Lowenfield stated that he has received declarations from Returning Officers for General and Regional Elections 2020 from Districts 1 – 10 and in accordance with Section 99 of the Representation of the People Act, he had prepared the final report for submission to the Commission.
“In this regard, a request is made for a meeting of the Commission at your earliest convenience,” he concluded.
The opposition-nominated members of the Commission have refused to attend any meeting called for such a purpose.
In a joint statement, the commissioners, Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn, stated that the invitation was a “flagrant attempt” to breach the Order of Court currently in place.
They also labelled the invitation a naked attempt by Lowenfield to suborn the Commission to breach an Order of Court and expose its members to liability for contempt of court.
“As holders of constitutional offices, we are at all times obligated to obey the Constitution and other laws of Guyana and we consider this invitation to meet as not only a violation of our duty to uphold the Constitution but also an invitation to subvert the course of justice,” they stressed.
The commissioners went on to reiterate that they hold the unconditional position that Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act was not complied with by the Returning Officer of District Four and therefore the purported declaration of the votes recorded for each list of candidates was invalid, null, void and of no effect.
“For the foregoing reasons, we will not respond to any such or further invitations from the Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield or Chairman of Guyana Elections Commission, Justice Claudette Singh, while the Court proceedings are still extant,” they concluded.
The regulations governing the declaration of results of elections in Guyana prescribe that the CEO must submit a final report to the commission which then deliberates and accepts same.
If the opposition-nominated commissioners refuse to attend the meeting called, there will be no quorum. However, the regulations provide that the Chair can call another meeting for the next day at the same time and proceed with the agenda in the absence of a quorum.
The Chair and two commissioners from each side of the Commission normally constitute a quorum.
The controversial declaration of the votes cast in District Four has over the last few days been the subject of international furor, with various multinational organisations and foreign sates calling for GECOM to complete the tabulation of the results from the region using Statement of Poll (SOPs) as set out in the law.
This request has been met with total silence from the Chairperson and Lowenfield, who have not said anything since Thursday, while District Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo has also rejected a request for a recount.
In a letter to PPP/C Counting Agent Charles Ramson Jr, Mingo indicated that a request for recount was received at 11.53 on March 6, the day after the declaration, has been denied.
“Please be advised that our records indicates that you have not been appointed as Counting Agent for the People’s Progressive Party in District #4,” Mingo wrote, explaining his reason for denying the request.
Ramson has, however, told this newspaper and as part of the pleadings in the case before the High Court that he was identified to Mingo as Counting Agent by Zulfikar Mustapha, the Election Agent of the party, in keeping with the provisions of Section 85 of the Representation of the People’s Act.
“I also on March 1 met with Mr Mingo and identified myself to him. I was present at the count and was at no point denied the access due the Counting Agent,” he told Sunday Stabroek.
Sunday Stabroek attempted to reach Mingo, who answered the number listed as his contact on GECOM’s website but hung up when the reporter identified herself and the purpose of her call.
The incumbent APNU+AFC, which would win re-election should the region’s results be verified, is the only party that has accepted the purported declaration.
Meanwhile, attempts to reach Region Three Returning Officer Mohanlall Jagdeo were similarly futile as he too hung up when the reporter indicated the purpose of the call.
APNU+AFC counting agent Aubrey Norton has been publicly quoted as stating that he has written to the Commission to complain that Jagdeo has refused to allow a recount as requested by the party.
Jagdeo, in turn, has claimed that the request for the recount was signed by the party’s Assistant Elections Agent, John Adams, and not the Counting Agent, Norton.
In Region Five, a recount from the APNU+AFC had been approved by Returning Officer Laikharam Pancham and scheduled to begin at 1 pm yesterday but up to press time it was not clear if this had been conducted.
In Region Six, Returning Officer Savitri Mangar had agreed to a recount but was unable to conduct same because the party agents from the PPP/C had refused to comply. “Recounts in Region Six have not commenced. In order for the process to commence, they require fresh/additional statements of poll. Party Agents have refused to open the container for the SOPs to be accessed,” she told media operatives on Friday.
After the voting process last Monday was deemed “credible” by all observers, the delayed counting process saw the two major parties each claim to have won a majority of the votes cast.
GECOM, the only body which can officially declare a winner, has been silent, with Lowenfield and Singh unreachable. Neither appeared at yesterday’s court hearing in which the Commission and Lowenfield are respondents.