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What the credible recounting of ballots is expected to achieve?

What the credible recounting of ballots is expected to achieve?

Dear Editor,

Most Guyanese would agree that there is never a moment in Guyana that lacks interest and excitement, especially since the 2011 Elections. Hardly anyone anticipated that a total recount of all votes cast in the 2020 general and regional elections, under the watchful eyes of a CARICOM team, was going to be required before GECOM could make a declaration of the final results of the poll. And, still, this might eventually prove to be the best decision to help a deeply divided people at this time of a moral crisis; and to verify the credibility of GECOM’s administration and conduct of ELECTIONS 2020; and resolve the credibility gap created by the contradictory statements made by the leadership of the People’s Progressive Party/civic (PPP/C), the New Political Parties (ANUG, CG, PRP, TCI, TNM and LJP) and A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition.

A major theme during the 2020 general and regional elections campaign was honesty, decency and integrity in political leadership. Consequently, it’s no surprise that the credibility of GECOM and our political leaders are in the spotlight or under intense public scrutiny. Even though supporters on either side of the political divide do not always tell the truth, it is still true as stated by Donald T. Phillips that “leaders who tell their subordinates the truth, even when the news is bad, gain greater respect and support for ideas than their less virtuous counterparts.” Even now, it is better to tell the truth rather than to lie, for honesty is the best policy.

What then are some of the important points to ponder as regards the proposed national recount? What will the recount do for Guyana, GECOM, the Observer Groups and Politicians? What are some important benefits of a recount?
Firstly, Guyana will not be put on a blacklist and be regarded as a country with a government elected by an electoral process that was unacceptable or untrustworthy. By allowing an independent high-level Caribbean Community (CARICOM) team to oversee a full elections recount, with GECOM managing the process, it is expected that this move will satisfy the “required standard of fairness and transparency” necessary to ascertain the final results of the elections.

Transparency is a most important issue in business, governance, media, and politics today. When a person is transparent, there is no attempt to lie or cover up. The word transparency implies “light shining through unimpeded” and it denotes openness, the absence of pretence and deceit. President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo must be commended for this agreement, the CARICOM Initiative to monitor a re-count of all ballots. After all, political leadership must model behaviour that is guided by a commitment to ethics, transparency and accountability.

Secondly, a national recount can help GECOM to redeem its credibility that has been seriously undermined by the controversy surrounding the counting of votes polled in Region 4. The Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo, ascertainment of the total votes cast in accordance with the Statements of Poll (for the 879 polling stations) was the major obstacle or difficulty, preventing the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, from making a final declaration of the 2020 General and Regional elections results.

The Region Four tabulation disputes triggered many reactions. First, the Organization of American States (OAS) on March 13, 2020 issued a statement explaining that it had no other option but to withdraw its presence from Guyana. According to the OAS team “the numbers that have emanated” since the tabulation process was disrupted is cause for concern and “it is unlikely that one can have a result that is credible and able to command public confidence.” This is a very damning statement.

Then, on the same March 13, 2020, shortly after the start of the court-ordered tabulation of the Statements of Poll, the Ambassador of the United States of America, Sarah-Ann Lynch, British High Commissioner, Greg Quinn, Canadian High Commissioner, Lilian Chatterjee, and the Ambassador of the European Union, Fernando Ponz-Canto, walked out of the Region 4 tabulation process at the Ashmin’s building, High and Hadfield Streets. According to a joint statement released by the four missions: “we are concerned about intimidation tactics we observed against those seeking to ensure that a credible process is followed.

We must be clear that in the absence of a credible process, as directed by the Honorable Chief Justice, it is our view that any results for Region 4 which will impact the overall results of the 2 March elections will not be credible and a President sworn in on the basis of those results will not be considered legitimate.” Such is the prospective of our western diplomats.

Besides, the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission had reason to write the Returning Officer of Region Four, Clairmont Mingo, asking to see the Statements of Poll that he used to prepare the spreadsheet of results which he intended to utilize for the declaration of results for Demerara-Mahaica. This request was made via a letter, dated March 12, 2020, and was being made “pursuant to Section 4 (1) and (3) of the General Elections (Observers) Act, as well as section 6,7,8 and 9 of the Administrative Arrangement between the Delegation of the European Union in Guyana and GECOM.” It clearly brings to light the nature of the Region Four tabulation challenge.

These issues form part of the background for the recount. And, it is expected, that a total recount of the votes from all ten electoral districts (beginning with the largest and most hotly disputed region four) can provide the ideal opportunity to help restore ‘maximum public confidence’ in GECOM’s operations or expose its weak spots. If the recounted ballots’ final score is similar to the results previously declared, it will go a long way for the credibility of the Guyana Elections Commission.

However, if the recounted ballots show significant differences from that which was declared for the ten electoral districts (and especially region four) GECOM’s credibility would be severely damaged. And, its staff, especially the presiding officers and returning officers, in particular Mr. Clairmont Mingo, would have demonstrated that they failed to serve with integrity.

Also, the Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield, and the Chairperson of the Elections Commission, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh (although they are both well respected and honourable) because they said nothing as regards the authenticity of the Statements of Poll published by the PPP/C and those Statements of Poll used by Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo to ascertain the results for Region Four, they are answerable. Is this a case where silence is golden? Well, the recount is likely to answer that question.

Thirdly, another benefit of a national recount of ballots, under the supervision of the independent high-level CARICOM team, is the recognition that the election results is likely to receive. The CARICOM Initiative is specifically geared to provide a solution and a final elections result that is expected to receive local as well as international recognition and approval. It will definitely clear the air and settle the facts concerning district four votes; for the electorate and all Guyanese; for the 18 international and local observer groups; especially the ABCE envoys, The European Union, the Organization of American States, CARICOM, the Commonwealth and The Carter Center. These observer groups will be more inclined to accredit elections results that are more in conformity with our electoral laws.

Finally, the recount of ballots for Elections 2020 will definitely be a moment of truth for the political leadership of not only the two major political heavyweights in Guyana, but also for the new political light flyweights and flyweights. One of the heavyweights will be caught red-handed and would likely be tested to its deepest political muscles. The other heavyweight will be visibly happy, but would have to learn quickly a new way of getting things done (with the leadership of the other parties) and to understand, appreciate and navigate the politics of governance in Guyana. For the new political flyweights it will be a reality check for them.

The recount will definitely bring us to that moment of truth when the people of Guyana will find out which one of two political heavyweights (both have claimed victory) has the legitimate right to form the next government for the world’s newest Petro state, Guyana. It will be another golden opportunity to make real the campaign slogans.

STRONGER TOGETHER! MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER!

Pastor Richard Avert James

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