The EAB has spoken. Not, one fears, that this might have much impact on our two main political parties, both of whom are long on mistrust and short on reason. For those who operate in an altogether less conspiratorial context, however, the report of the Electoral Assistance Bureau on the November 28, 2011 elections is a very welcome intervention. If one has a regret, it is that the report did not come sooner, before the major parties gave public expression to their fantasies about the outcome of the poll.
The findings of the EAB cannot be easily dismissed. The organization has a commendable track record going back to the 1992 elections, and of all the observers has unparalleled experience of the elections processes, parties and conditions here. According to its website, in addition to its observer activities, it undertook a detailed assessment of the Statements of Poll (SoPs), which necessitated gaining access to the collections held by Gecom, the PPP/C, APNU and the AFC. Both the Guyana Elections Commission and the political parties co-operated with the bureau in this regard.
While the EAB found “incidents, irregularities and discrepancies” which it detailed, these were insignificant in terms of the overall results, which in its view did reflect the intention of voters. Seventy-six per cent of all votes cast on November 28, were cast at polling stations where the bureau had all-day observers, and 75.4% of all votes were cast at polling stations where there were all-day EAB observers and the polling and count procedures were found to be “totally acceptable” and “acceptable.” The report went on to say: “The EAB cannot speak specifically of conditions at the stations not observed. However, of the sample of at least 70 per cent of all polling stations observed, the EAB found that there were no procedural irregularities at 94.8 per cent of the stations. This gives some indication of the quality of the process one may expect of polling stations overall.” In short, as already noted, it gave a clean bill of health to the election and to the official results declared by Gecom on December 1.
The observer group’s work on the SoPs is of particular significance, given the suspicions APNU made public in relation to these. At a press conference on March 18, the party made the extravagant claim that there was no reliable basis on which to determine who had won the presidency. What APNU offered in terms of statistics related mostly to the use of private residences as polling stations. However, these statistics were offered in a contextual vacuum, since what percentage of the total vote for a given region they represented was not divulged, and so how they potentially could have affected the overall outcome could not be assessed. Similarly, the party claimed that the votes on SoPs did not add up to Gecom’s gazetted results. Now that the EAB has made public its findings, however, APNU’s assertions have been put in their proper perspective, as a consequence of which there is now little doubt that the party has no case for its larger conclusions – which is not the same thing as saying it was wrong about some or even all of the specific irregularities it highlighted.
Not to be outdone, on March 23 President Ramotar at a press conference once again accused the opposition of infiltrating the Gecom machinery, and asked why APNU and the AFC had refused his offer to have a forensic audit of the elections, “and let us go back into the box as we did after the 1997 elections to see what the real results are…” He then repeated the allegations he made in February that the PPP/C had won by over 50% of the vote. In Mr Ramotar’s case, however, no statistics were offered in support of his contentions, merely anecdotal evidence of the vaguest kind. As such, the EAB report makes nonsense of his claims.
In his column in this weekend’s Mirror, Mr Ralph Ramkarran writes as though it is only APNU querying the results, and said that “Logically, APNU has to now conclude that the PPP/C Government is illegitimate. Therefore the starting point of its political work from now on could be a demand for new elections. An audit has already been demanded.” Well yes, but according to President Ramotar’s own words that audit ‘demand’ came from him (Ramotar) and not the combined opposition which he said had rejected the suggestion. And where the PPP/C is concerned, “logically” given their rejection of the official results they too would have to conclude that the one-seat opposition majority was “illegitimate,” and that their starting point “could be a demand for new elections.” The clear implication of what Mr Ramkarran has to say at the end of his column is that the EAB’s findings are correct; while he only appears to consider that APNU should reconcile themselves to this, before he points fingers, he really should first be doing some work with his own party (and his own General Secretary) to persuade them to accept the officially declared outcome of the November 28 elections as reflecting the will of the people.
There are undoubtedly psychological and political reasons for both the PPP/C and APNU behaving as they have, but at this stage, it really doesn’t matter what these are, save to observe that neither side is very good at adjusting to reality. In addition, the unfortunate statements about the results emanating from both sides have only served to exacerbate the already deep distrust between the parties, and confirm the stereotypes about each other that both harbour. Now that the EAB and not just the overseas observers have cleared the results, at this point in the proceedings, the voters do not want to hear anything more on the subject, least of all that some politician is nursing the desire that we should go to another national election (not local government polls) any time soon. What they want (since we cannot expect retractions) is for the two dinosaurs to subside into silence on the subject, and apply themselves to the work they were elected to do.