The long delayed local government elections will be held before the end of the first quarter of next year, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan announced yesterday.
Bulkan’s announcement followed his issuance yesterday of two orders identifying the nine towns and 62 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) in which the elections would be held and their respective boundaries. Included in the listed municipalities are the newly identified townships of Lethem, Mabaruma and Bartica.
After the announcement, the Guyana Elec-tions Commission (Gecom) said its Secretariat is “in full operational mode” for the conduct of the polls and, according to its current work plan, they can be held no earlier than March 14th, 2016, and no later than May 29th, 2016. It, however, said the appointment of election day is still to be made by a ministerial order.
Bulkan, while delivering the feature address yesterday at an activity organised for development of action plans for municipal development, said he was awaiting a definitive response from Gecom on what the window is the holding of the polls. “I expect that early in the new week the date can be named,” he said.
The minister, however, noted that he can state clearly that the polls would be held before the end of the first quarter of next year. He stressed that the early holding of the elections is part and parcel of a process that shows the new administration’s commitment to democratic renewal and the strengthening of local organs for effective local governance.
The elections were last held in 1994, although they are constitutionally due to be held every three years.
In a statement issued yesterday, Gecom said the order identifying the constituencies allows it to extract the voters’ list for each area from the national register.
Further, Gecom noted that the fully constituted Commission, at its statutory meeting on September 22nd, had already unanimously decided that February 29th, 2016, would be the qualifying date for the extraction of voters’ lists.
It explained that after the extraction of the Preliminary Lists of Voters for all local government constituencies, eligible voters would be invited to fully utilise the Claims and Objections period to scrutinise, sanitise and update the lists.
During the period, persons who will be 18 years and over by February 29th, will be allowed to make claims to have their registration recorded at the address in the constituency in which they live, either as new registrants or by transfer. In addition, they will be allowed to make objections to entries in the lists in their respective constituencies. Other transactions, such as corrections and change of name, supported by the appropriate source documents, will also be permitted during this period, Gecom added.
To facilitate the Claims and Objections exercise, Gecom said 153 offices will be established across all the local government constituencies and lists will be posted as well. It urged that all eligible voters make full use of the period to ensure a credible electoral roll is produced.
APNU and AFC, the two main parties in the current coalition government, had lobbied vigorously for the holding of local government elections while in opposition. During their campaign for the May 11th elections, they had made a commitment to setting a date for the early holding of the local polls in its first 100 days in office.
That period elapsed without this being done primarily because of legislative requirements and the need for Gecom to pronounce on its readiness for the polls.
Bulkan and the government had originally signaled that they were anticipating local government elections before the end of the year. However, Gecom highlighted several legislative changes which were necessary before elections could be held.
Consequently, the government crafted and successfully passed the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2015, which was intended to enact crucial changes for the polls to be carried out in an efficient manner, such as the movement of Nomination Day from 21 days to 50 days before election day.
This bill also cleared the way for the extraction of the preliminary voters’ list from the National Register of Registrants (NRR), instead of from the 1992 Official List of Electors, as was previously provided for in the law.
At the time of the bill’s passage, Bulkan declined to name a date for the polls, while noting that a date would be named in consultation with the Gecom and that it would be early as practicable.
On the same day that the bill was passed, Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally had assured that the Commission would begin the implementation of its work plan for the running off of the elections, immediately after the outstanding legal requirements were passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President David Granger.