Allowing new registrants won’t delay polls

-Ramotar

PPP/C presidential candidate Donald Ramotar yesterday said that upcoming polls would not be delayed by the holding of a new round of Claims and Objections to facilitate registration of between 5,000 and 7,000 eligible voters currently not on the list.

Opposition parties—PNCR, AFC and WPA—have questioned the timing of the PPP/C’s lobby to reopen registration, but Ramotar explained that the party was not aware of the true scope of the problem, which stemmed from the difficulty faced by some prospective electors in accessing birth certificates in order to be registered.

PPP/C presidential candidate Donald Ramotar flanked by PPP/C MP Norman Whittaker (left) and Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud (right) at yesterday’s press conference.

At a press conference yesterday at Freedom House, it was revealed that PPP/C activists on the ground have found people who had ID cards distributed in 2006 who could not get on to the list because they could not get their birth certificates, even though they made several attempts to do so. Seven persons, who the PPP/C said fit this category, were present at the press conference.

Although the opposition parties last week warned of the danger of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) bowing to the pressure of the ruling party on the issue, Ramotar accused them of an ‘about face,’ since they had all highlighted the problem since 2008.

Gecom, which previously decided against a Claims and Objections extension, has been unable to reach consensus after reopening the issue, with the government and opposition-nominated members evenly divided on how to proceed. As a result, Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally may be forced to cast the deciding vote.

Questioned what would happen if Gecom decided against reopening the Claims and Objections, Ramotar said that the party would have to abide by this decision.

“We in the PPP, we always recognised that this was a problem but we were working very hard to help as much people as we possibly could and now we have this great somersault taking place in the opposition camp against any attempt to reopen these things,” he said. “And it seems to me to be rather childish and petty, if their only basis for doing this is because the PPP now recognised this and has now made a similar request. I would have thought that they would have been happy that we would have had consensus across the board for people to be asking to have this matter resolved,” he continued.

Ramotar estimated that about 5,000 to 7,000 eligible voters are not currently on the list. He said too that since the close of Claims and Objections period, about 2,000 people received their source documents.

On Friday, however, the opposition coalition APNU put the number at 2,300, saying that this was greatly reduced from the estimated 40,000 persons who were not registered during the house-to-house exercise in 2008.

While accusing the PPP/C of bringing an “inordinate amount of pressure” down on Gecom, the APNU said it  is seeking the assurance that no mechanism would be adopted that puts into jeopardy the integrity of the Final Voters’ List or delay the polls beyond the December 28, 2011 constitutional deadline. As a result, it urged Guyanese to be vigilant and ensure the PPP/C does not succeed in its “mysterious and suspicious” agenda.

But according to Ramotar, the matter at hand is to give eligible persons the opportunity to register. “We think that it is just because many, many people…through no fault of their own, who made attempts to get their birth certificates who could not get them, and who made more than one attempt, we think that they should be given an opportunity to be registered and to have their names on the list so that they can carry out their civic duty of voting for a government of their choice,” he said.

Ramotar suggested that if Gecom agrees to reopening the Claims and Objections period, persons who get registered during this period should have their names on a separate list, which would be given to the various parties and groups so that they could verify the authenticity of the registrations that are done.  This should be done even though the process would be done under the watch of the scrutineers of the various parties.

Gecom, he added, has always been an organisation that has tried its best to facilitate eligible voters being registered. At the same time, he tried to dispel the suggestion that his party was trying to delay the elections and said that “Gecom has a mechanism that will not extend the life of the PPP/C government.

“We have absolutely no interest in extending our lives as the way the PNC did. We have absolutely no interest in that,” Ramotar said. “We want, we have fought for all our lives, for free and fair elections in this country and we want to have free and fair elections in Guyana.”

Both PPP/C MPs Robert Persaud and Norman Whittaker, who were present at the conference with Ramotar, echoed his sentiments. Whittaker said that in Region One the problem of eligible voters not being able to register transcended all parties.

When questioned about the PPP’s late reaction when the issue had been raised since 2008, Ramotar said that at the time the party did not know the full extent of the situation. “It is true that they [the opposition] raised the matter since 2008, but it is also true that we have always supported them… we have never condemned them to say that they are making mischief,” he said. “We did not at that time know the extent of the situation and we said that there was still time for the relevant bodies to be helpful in getting these people the source documents,” he added.

Questioned about the PNCR’s complaint that the government failed to react positively when it recommended changes at the General Register Office (GRO) to speed up the process, Ramotar said “If you look at the [number] of birth certificates they issued, you can’t just criticise them. But maybe the matter was bigger than anyone suspected at the time.”

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