Rapt attention has no doubt been paid by the public to the manoeuvrings surrounding the contract of the Chief Election Officer, Mr Gocool Boodoo. This is as it should be. Mr Boodoo is the chief executive officer in the electoral process and the single most important person in the machinery.
Mr Boodoo’s contract is up for renewal and prior to that the members of the Guyana Elections Commission who were nominated by the opposition made it clear that they would not be supporting a renewal of the contract. This position was primarily founded on the erroneous near declaration of a parliamentary majority for the PPP/C at the 2011 general elections. The opposition stance on Mr Boodoo has split the Commission and there was a view that following several meetings it might decide against a renewal of the contract. This then led to a letter by counsel for Mr Boodoo to the Commission insisting that the procedure set out in his contract for the consideration of a renewal be followed. Not having elicited the type of response sought, Mr Boodoo has now taken the commissioners to court seeking to preserve his contractual rights.
Given the sensitive position that Mr Boodoo holds, and the need for immaculate performance in an ethno-politically cleft society, particularly at election time, there would undoubtedly be occasions where a single action can undo one’s body of work. The monumental mistake that Mr Boodoo was about to make until he was stopped by elections commissioner Mr Vincent Alexander was of the magnitude that would immediately lose him the confidence of reasonable minds in any similar situation. It was not only the ridiculousness of the blunder but the repercussions that could have flowed from it. The public is already witness to the confrontation that defines the 10th Parliament. The government is presently desperate for a parliamentary majority and was about to be handed this on a platter in 2011 as a result of the mistake by Mr Boodoo. Undoing an electoral mistake via the courts is not an uncomplicated matter as has been found in other cases. The likely fallout from the error is disturbing to contemplate.
Mr Boodoo therefore could not reasonably expect the opposition to paper over that mistake and to work along with him on what are likely to be even more contentious elections in the future. It wasn’t the only serious error. The 2006 general election had seen a lesser mistake but one of enormous political significance which Mr Boodoo and team would also have had to take responsibility for. Had the ballots been scrupulously counted, Prime Minister Sam Hinds would not have been able to occupy a Region 10 (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice) seat in Parliament and this would have instead gone to the Alliance For Change although the overall number of seats would not have been altered.
Voters and members of the public would have also been appalled at what had almost happened in the presentation of the parliamentary results and the adverse implications that could have been drawn from it. This in turn casts a shadow on the elections commission and confidence in its processes. For all these reasons it should have been evident to Mr Boodoo and members of the commission on both sides that it would be inappropriate for him to continue in the post and this should have led to an amicable parting with Mr Boodoo being thanked for his services to the country in running off elections.
The post-independence history of the country particularly from 1968 to 1985 has been rife with evidence of electoral fraud and charges of misfeasance against senior members of the elections machinery. In the ensuing years, numerous allegations of chicanery and incompetence have arisen. All of this functions as an albatross on the wearied shoulders of the ordinary voter but because confidence is such an important element of the elections it cannot be ignored or easily discounted.
Mr Boodoo is well within his rights to seek the protection of the court and this process is now in train. It however, seems that his taking legal action against the commissioners would make it difficult for him to continue in his post. How does one collaborate with the same people that they once sued given the sensitivities of the electoral process and the need for unblemished confidence?
However this matter turns out there are two issues that have to be addressed frontally by those concerned. GECOM cannot be hamstrung in its preparations for possible local government elections this year. This process must proceed uninterrupted and unimpeded with the present staff in the elections secretariat, irrespective of the matter surrounding Mr Boodoo. This assurance has to be given to the public by GECOM.
Second, the broader reform of GECOM and other changes to the electoral system should be foremost in the mind of the parliamentary parties and other stakeholders. These matters were referred to in the February 27, 2012 SN editorial addressing recommendations that had been made by the Organisation of American States Mission following the November 28, 2011 elections.
Some of the OAS’s key recommendations follow:
“Given that the Guyanese electoral system requires voters to mark a ballot for the party, not a named candidate, the mission recommends revisiting the possibility of allowing direct representation to provide greater choice for voters and direct access to political representatives.
“A review of the composition of the Electoral Commission to potentially incorporate technical criteria and to establish mechanisms that guarantee plurality. These recommendations are designed to enhance independence and to reduce the perception of politicization of the electoral process.
“The level of legal detail and discretion afforded the Commission regarding electoral procedures. The OAS mission recommends the consideration of safeguards and detailed regulations to ensure full independence and guarantee participation by all citizens.
“Guaranteed availability and disbursement of the approved allotment of resources for the electoral process to GECOM on a regular, scheduled basis during electoral years.
“As recommended by the 2006 OAS electoral observation mission, constitutionally mandated local elections should be held soon to increase the inclusivity of the political system.”
The latter recommendation is particularly relevant as local government elections are still being awaited in 2013.