(Guyana) The long-awaited General and Regional Elections are here and according to Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, the entity is prepared to conduct the elections efficiently and transparently.
She made this statement on Sunday, the penultimate day before
elections, during a radio interview. According to Justice Singh,
notwithstanding the last-minute changes, everything has been put in
place, including lighting and security for the tents that will be used
as polling places.
“We are fully prepared to deliver free, fair and credible elections. Everything has been put in place towards transparency. The places where we are using tents, lights are being fixed in all those tents. Security, potable water and portable toilets are being placed in those locations,” she said.
The GECOM Chair also stressed that there was no need for worry about the tabulation of votes, since there were several layers of accountability in the polling places. According to Singh, the tabulation of the votes will be closely watched.
“And there is an account sheet, as to how many ballots were received. And how many were used. And how many were spoilt. You have to give that account. Further, we have several observers and they will be there.
“They’re there,” she added, when asked whether observers would also be in locations in interior and riverine areas. “The ABCEU (United States, British, Canadian and European Union) will have several persons there. And they’ve scattered them around.”
When it comes to the vote count and how soon results would be available, Singh shied away from providing an exact timeline. According to her, there are several variables to consider, but GECOM for its part will strive to deliver results in a timely manner.
“We would not be able to have all the results very early. However, GECOM would endeavour to bring the results in the earliest possible time. We must also give due consideration to the fact that … parties may very well ask for recounts. GECOM has no control over that. Now we have 11 parties … but we will endeavour to bring updates on what is going on.”
The Retired Justice also reminded persons of the fact that assembling within 200 yards of a polling station and interfering in any way with the process is an election offence, something that was brought to the fore after calls from officials such as Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence for her party supporters to assemble outside polling stations.
“On Election Day, no one should be within 200 yards of the polling station. If you’re there, you’re committing an offence under the Representation of the People’s Act. You can be fined $65,000 plus imprisonment.
“So, if you are there to molest electors, asking who they voted for
or soliciting their votes, then you’re committing an offence. That can
be termed canvassing,” the GECOM Chairperson also added.
Justice Singh also had a message for the 660,998 Guyanese citizens who are registered to vote today, as well as the leaders of the 11 parties who are contesting in the General and Regional Elections.
“I would ask all electors to go out there and cast their ballot. It is their constitutional right to vote, and I would ask them to do so as responsible citizens of Guyana. Also, we are asking all the political parties to ask their supporters to respect the law.”
In fact, the Carter Center encouraged GECOM to publicise and distribute existing procedures for tabulation as widely as possible.
“The Carter Center notes that publicising and widely distributing procedures for both tabulation and recounts – with key safeguards in place for transparency, allowing party scrutineers and observers at all stages – will be integral to ensuring that the will of the voters is accurately and comprehensively reflected in the final results,” a release issued by the body stated.
Road to elections
The road to General and Regional Elections has been a bumpy one, starting with the successful passage of a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly against the Government in December 2018 and culminating in the President announcing the March 2 date almost a year later.
The Government argued vehemently but unsuccessfully, first at the
National Assembly and then at the High Court, that the motion was not
validly passed. Among its arguments was that 33 was not the majority of
65 and that Charrandas Persaud, the Alliance For Change (AFC)
parliamentarian who voted against it, was not qualified to be in
The Government found success at the Appeals Court, which overturned the no-confidence vote. But the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) upheld the passage of the no-confidence motion, vindicated Persaud and left the Government with little choice but to focus on elections.
While the case was being heard in the Judiciary, however, GECOM embarked on House-to-House Registration based on an order signed by illegally appointed Chairperson, retired Justice James Patterson.
After staunch resistance by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), the exercise was halted prematurely by Patterson’s successor, Justice Singh. There have been other controversies, including the decision to cut down on private polling stations in areas that predominantly support the PPP/C.