Opposition to press for electoral revamp

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) will continue to push for reform of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) with the AFC calling for the commission to be a more “professional body” rather than a “politically dominated” body.

When contacted yesterday, APNU Leader David Granger told Stabroek News that while the partnership will be looking to effect certain reforms of the commission it would be premature for him to state what its next move is before a scheduled shadow ministers’ meeting tomorrow where the issue would be discussed. However, he pointed out that that the partnership was unhappy with the manner in which the last election was administered and identified issues such as changing of polling stations without proper notification and the length of time the commission took to announce the results.

Meanwhile, AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan in an invited comment told this newspaper that his party wanted the commission to be reformed and for it to become a professional body rather than it having the major political parties-PPP/C and PNC-dominating it with three commissioners each for the PNCR and the PPP/C. He once again criticized the move by APNU to nominate Sandra Jones as the commissioner to replace the late Robert Williams instead of supporting the AFC’s nominee David Patterson.

David Granger

He pointed out that following the last elections, the Commonwealth observer mission and the Organisation of American States (OAS) had called for GECOM to be a more professionally operated body. He said that the AFC also feels that there should be legislation in place to stipulate how long a commissioner can serve instead of what happens now where a commissioner can serve until his or her death.

Ramjattan said his party will be making certain proposals at the tripartite talks and hopefully they would receive the support of the two larger parties.

But he also stressed that there are many things that are happening at the same time-such as the scrutinising of the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Ltd (NICIL)-which needs specialist treatment and they cannot get everything done at the same time. “We have to dialogue on these major issues and that can take time,” Ramjattan said but he added that some things can happen quickly if the two major parties throw their support behind the initiatives.

Khemraj Ramjattan

He also pointed out that for certain constitutional changes there is need for a two-thirds majority and the two opposition parties with their one-seat majority would not be able to make those changes without the support of the PPP/C. Further, even if they do pass any constitutional changes in Parliament, President Donald Ramotar would have to assent to these before they come into effect.

However, he said that the PPP/C is going to behave “very conservative” on certain constitutional changes as they would not want to change the constitution that the PNC had delivered which they criticized while out of office but which they are now happy with. “The PPP and the PNC in relation to the constitution are two sides of the same coin. They only behave differently when they are in power,” Ramjattan said.

He recalled that it was the PNC that changed the constitution to allow the party with the highest amount of votes to be in government instead of what happens in a normal democracy where the party/parties with the parliamentary majority form the government. Under the former independence constitution the AFC and APNU could have formed the government with their one-seat majority in the National Assembly. “That [the constitution change] will come back and I hope it comes back to haunt the PNC,” Ramjattan said.

Late last month the combined Opposition voted against two allocations totalling $527 million for GECOM stating that the necessary reforms must be made and if they are, they would then support a supplementary appropriation. An allocation of $902.8 million under ‘other’ was reduced by $500 million while an allocation of $53.7 million for refreshments and meals was cut by $27 million.

In proposing the cuts, Ramjattan had asked Prime Minister Sam Hinds whether the remaining pieces of electoral reform legislation would be brought to the National Assembly to make the holding of Local Government Elections possible.

Hinds had said he “would certainly hope so.” Hinds had also said that the Chief Election Officer said to him that he would be happy if Parliament does what is required to ensure that those elections are held in October this year.

Hinds had expressed disappointment in the Opposition for voting against the allocations and called it an unusual step.

Speaking on the amendments, APNU’s Basil Williams had said that his party’s position has always been consistent. “We cannot put new wine into old wine skins. We have not heard a word from the Government on those reforms. If the Prime Minister or anyone else from the Government commits to having the reforms, we would support supplementary provisions,” Williams had said.

Observers say the cuts may also have some bearing on GECOM’s ability to run off snap elections if one is to be called by the government. The opposition appears to want to ensure that a snap poll cannot be called so easily.

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