OAS recommends electoral reforms here

-final report contains nothing to confirm Ramotar claims

Delivering its final verdict on the November 28 general elections, the OAS has confirmed its original finding of a mostly smooth process and has recommended reforms to the electoral system but there was nothing in the report that backed up recent claims by President Donald Ramotar that the APNU and the AFC had manipulated the poll results.

Ramotar’s claims two weeks ago – which some say were tantamount to saying that the elections were rigged – have been condemned by the opposition parties. He suggested that the ruling party had been cheated of about four or five per cent of the votes.

Gordon Shirley

The OAS, which mounted a 25-member Electoral Observer Mission (EOM) headed by Jamaican professor Gordon Shirley recommended a series of reforms to the country’s electoral framework and for more equitable access to the media – a sore problem for opposition parties – and to campaign financing. Its Permanent Council heard a verbal presentation in Washington on Wednesday by Professor Shirley.

Key among the recommendations were mechanisms to ensure more even access to media and political financing.

The report recommended that there be electoral reform, which should include changes that would allow voters direct access to their representatives. It has been proposed by some political parties that a list of candidates in order of priority be presented to the voters so they would have an idea as to who they would be voting into Parliament.

The OAS also urged that there be reforms to the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), which is also something that opposition parties have been pressing for. Gecom’s Media Monitoring Unit, the report said, could benefit from further institutionalization which would include the incorporation of mechanisms that ensure its impartial composition as well as legal mechanisms that include oversight and enforcement capabilities.

As regards the recently passed Broadcasting Act, the OAS pointed to the need for the development of mechanisms to ensure the independence of members of the forthcoming Board of Authority. The OAS electoral observation mission also recommended that regulations made pursuant to the Act should limit the discretion of the Board and should set out in detail both the conditions governing licences and clarifications of the general terms used in the Act. This issue has been raised by opposition parties which are concerned that the government will seek to exercise full control over the broadcast authority and use it for political purposes.

With regard to campaign financing, it called for a “legal review of the campaign financing framework”. The report said consideration should be given to the inclusion of a requirement for disclosure of campaign expenditure prior to elections; the establishment of criteria for private and foreign contributions; and instituting public campaign financing.

It urged that there be a review of proportional access for parties to paid and free advertising time on the state media (television and radio) without the existing requirement for a 48-hour prior submission for review.

Meanwhile, with regard to the proposed electoral reform, the OAS recommended direct representation to provide greater choice for voters and direct access to political representatives. This is in view of that fact that Guyanese voters are required to mark ballots for the party of their choice and not a named candidate.

The composition of Gecom also came under the microscope, with a recommendation being made for the incorporation of technical criteria and mechanisms that guarantee plurality since these would “enhance independence and to reduce the perception of politicization of the electoral process.”

The OAS also addressed the issue of resources for Gecom’s work, recommending that these should be allotted on a on a regular, scheduled basis during electoral years. With regard to the level of legal detail and discretion afforded the commission regarding electoral procedures, it also called for safeguards and detailed regulations to ensure full independence and guarantee participation by all citizens.

It noted that the 2006 OAS electoral observation mission had recommended that the constitutionally mandated local government elections should be held soon to increase the inclusivity of the political system and it reiterated this position. Local government elections were last held in 1994.

The OAS mission recommended that Gecom incorporate stringent deadlines for the electoral calendar and for changes in procedures prior to election day. This is in reference to the extensions given for registration and subsequently, claims and objections.

As regards electoral results, the report urged a complete review of the procedures for the transmission and tabulation of results and for the declaration of both preliminary and final results. It also recommended that additional mechanisms be implemented to keep electoral materials secure at all times. The tabulation of results took overly long with the final results only being declared on December 2, some five days after the     elections. In addition there had been instances of suspicion of tampering with elections materials after the counting of votes at the places of poll.

The OAS also called for the strengthening the promotion of gender-balanced     participation throughout the electoral process. It urged that there be training programmes for female would-be candidates for the continued political participation of women, both within political party structures. It noted that party leaders are the ones who have complete discretion in deciding which candidates from their lists actually gain seats in the National Assembly. Observers and women’s rights activists had commented on the dearth of female participation at the highest level of the parties that contested the elections.

The report said that the OAS electoral observation mission acknowledged and applauded the overall quality of the preparations for election day. Because of this, it noted, the issues that arose during the post-electoral process were particularly unfortunate.

The OAS mission said it hoped the newly elected government and parliament will further the consolidation of Guyana’s democratic processes by guaranteeing an even more balanced playing field for electoral competition in future processes.

“For their commitment to carrying out the elections in a peaceful fashion, the OAS mission congratulates the people of Guyana,” the report said. In addition, the mission thanked the governments of Argentina, Chile, Serbia, the United States, and the United Kingdom along with Elections Canada for their contributions.