With general elections looming next year, the main opposition APNU yesterday met with the Guyana Elections Com-mission (GECOM) on its readiness for polls and said that it was “encouraged” by the agency’s preparations.
“What we’ve heard I think is encouraging. I think that they have gone a long way,” chairman of APNU Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine told reporters following the meeting. He added that they also have concerns and identified these as the fact that it is taking GECOM “a very long time” to get the full complement of people applying for Election Day duty. This raises the question of training Roopnaraine said adding that the commission is still very short of the total number of persons it is going to need for Election Day work and that is a matter of concern to APNU.
Last Saturday, amid political deadlock and facing growing criticism over his decision to suspend parliament, President Donald Ramotar announc-ed that he will call general elections but declined to name a date, saying that he will “announce further steps” in this direction early next year.
General elections are constitutionally due in late 2016 but since suspending parliament on November 10th to avoid a no-confidence vote against his government, Ramotar has been unable to mobilise support for the move and his government has been increasingly criticised over it. He has come under fire from political parties, civil society and other groupings, with the UK and Organisation of American States, among others, calling on him to end the now month-long suspension of parliament as soon as possible.
Roopnaraine along with APNU leader David Granger, APNU General Secretary Joseph Harmon as well as executives Amna Ally and Winston Felix, yesterday met with the GECOM commissioners as well as the Chief Election Officer and his deputy. “We had a very full exchange with the elections commission and we were interested in the various processes including the continuous registration process, all of the Election Day preparations, the question of training, so we went through a fairly full agenda to get some indication of the state of GECOM’s readiness to, in fact, administer an election,” Roopnaraine said.
“They answered everything that we asked and I think we had a full and comprehensive review of the processes in which GECOM is engaged,” he added.
Ally, meantime, said that GECOM was unclear about an estimated timeline by which the agency will be ready for an election. “I guess they are waiting on the President’s announcement but what I know is that it is definite that at some point shortly, the seventh cycle of registration will be truncated,” she said.
“We have taken the step today (yesterday) to ensure that we are satisfied with the arrangements that are made by GECOM because we are not going to be hurried, we are not going to be ambushed by any statements made by President Ramotar or by (Head of the Presidential Secretariat) Dr. (Roger) Luncheon in relation to the actual holding or conduct of elections. We actually have basically taken our preparations to another level and this is why we have engaged GECOM and we do not want to be relying on statements about GECOM’s preparedness, statements made by Dr. Luncheon or by anybody other than GECOM so this is why we came here to hear from the horse’s mouth how they are basically prepared to conduct elections in a free and fair manner,” Harmon added.
“We have been given the assurance by GECOM that the process of fingerprinting, the process of cross-matching of information that that process is going to be done in a manner in which they have been done before, that they have sufficient time now within which they can have these things verified, the verification of biometric information,” he said.
Asked whether he was concerned that GECOM could be steered in another direction as a result of pressure from the ruling PPP, Felix expressed confidence in the agency. “From what we observed, GECOM seems fairly firm and resolute in their resolve to conduct the elections including this preparatory stage…in a fair, honest and transparent manner,” he said.
He added that no doubt, attempts would be made to steer GECOM “but from my discerning of attitudes I think that the personnel there are persons who are strong enough to understand their professional role and to pursue that role.”
GECOM had previously registered its “deep concern over” the ongoing lectures by PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee on a range of issues.
Meantime, Ally said that they discussed some Election Day issues and sought assurances that the running of the polls would be smooth. “The answers given by GECOM, they were quite encouraging,” she said. Also discussed were issues such as polling agents, their work and appointment of them. She said that the matter of certificates of employment was raised because on the last occasion “I believe we were shafted with the use of certificates of employment and so we raised that as one of our major issues” to get some guidance. She said that they had not gotten a complete answer from GECOM on that matter but they hope that the commission will discuss the concerns and respond.