Obstruction, tampering concerns mar GPSU vote count

The counting of ballots for the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) elections continued yesterday amidst claims by the elections officer that attempts were being made to disrupt the process, while the lone challenger to incumbent President Partick Yarde alleged that there have been several discrepancies, including tampering with ballots.

Although Stabroek News had been told that counting had been suspended until later this week, counting of ballots from Thursday’s elections continued at the GPSU hall in a highly contentious atmosphere.

Elections officer Herman DeSouza yesterday claimed that persons present were “deliberately attempting to obstruct the counting process which is necessary for there to be a declaration of the results of the elections.”

Union members, including presidential candidate Gregory Gaspar (centre) observe the process of counting and verification of ballots yesterday.

According to a statement that was released through the union last evening, DeSouza and his team said they made every effort to ensure that the elections process was not only free, fair and transparent, but also free from fear as they noted that it had become apparent that there were individuals determined to disrupt the process.

The statement asserted that the disruption could “only result in the disenfranchisement of the thousands of members” throughout the numerous branches across the country.

DeSouza, who has refused to speak to Stabroek News on concerns raised about the conduct of the elections, went on to state that all parties concerned were informed that counting and verification of ballots would continue at 9 am yesterday but he and his staff were subjected to disruption and intimidating behaviour.

It blamed this development on “some candidates” and their alleged supporters, many of whom it said admitted themselves into the building without proper authorisation, and refused to exit when instructed to do so by internal security personnel.

Several ballot boxes stacked in the main hall of the GPSU headquarters during the process of counting and verification of ballots yesterday.

The statement from DeSouza and his team claimed that the disruption reached such a level that he was forced to call in the police to resolve the situation, which continued until 3.30 pm.

It added that the disruption resumed once the police had left, forcing DeSouza to call them again. “The persons present continued to be noisy during the police presence further delaying the counting of the ballots,” the statement said.

However, Stabroek News visited the union’s headquarters at about 3 pm and while police were present, there was no evidence of disruptive behaviour. Instead, several members of the union appeared to have congregated in the main hall to observe the process.

‘Grave indictment’

Meanwhile, Gregory Gaspar, who is challenging long time GPSU leader Yarde for the post of union president, wrote DeSouza yesterday detailing a number of concerns, which he said are a “grave indictment on the integrity and transparency” of the process.

In the letter, which was made public, Gaspar stated that several eligible voters were disenfranchised since ample notice of the election was not provided. The elections, which were previously set for April 24, were held on April 27, after an injunction restraining the holding of the elections was discharged on April 25, 2017.

The announcement of the elections date was not officially made until April 26, one day before voting.

“Many of these affected voters indicated that efforts were made to have this matter addressed but to no avail, and have informed me of same,” Gaspar noted.

He also highlighted the fact that the elections were conducted without an available general list of eligible voters, while no statement of polls for the outlying regions were made available to the members up to yesterday.

In relation to the list of voters, Gaspar stated that the elections officer responded to an April 23 request by noting that due to the elections being on hold as a result of the injunction issued by the High Court on April 19, 2017, he was unable to provide same. Further requests on April 26, 27, 28 and 29 also proved futile.

In the case of regions 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 10, ballot boxes from these areas have been delivered to the Elections Officer but no statements of polls have been made available to the members despite polls having been closed at 6 pm on April 27, 2017, Gaspar pointed out. “Members are aware that this information is critical for validating the count of ballots cast for the respective stations/roving ballot boxes, and I therefore demand that this information be made available to each candidate contesting the GPSU elections for 2017, as well as the observers witnessing the count prior to the counting of ballots,” he said.

Other complaints include the return of ballot boxes to the GPSU headquarters in the absence of the Elections Officer or the Assistant Elections Officer to receive same as well as ballot boxes being left open to tampering, since neither the Elections Officer nor the Assistant Elections Officer was present to ensure the integrity of the ballot boxes.

“I wish to recall our agreement in treating with these boxes in the early hours of April 28, 2017, where it was decided that all persons will leave the venue together and return together to resume counting later in the day (28 April, 2017). Note is made that some candidates contesting the elections were in the building ahead of  myself and other prohibited candidates as well as the Elections Officer and Assistant Elections Officer, while myself and other candidates of the elections and members of the GPSU were locked out of the building by official notice placed on the door of the GPSU Headquarters,” Gaspar informed DeSouza, before drawing attention to the fact the three of four ballot boxes from Region 10 arrived on the morning of April 28, 2017, empty.

He said one union official in the region had told members that all of the ballots from the region were placed in one box for convenience, which he said was a “gross irregularity” as it compromises the integrity of the ballots, and by extension, the ballot boxes.

Consequently, Gaspar called for all of the region’s ballots to be disqualified from consideration in the tallying of votes for the outcome of this election.

Gaspar also alleged that that there was tampering with the Region 3 balloting, where several ballots not cast by eligible voters were placed in the ballot box, and he urged that the situation be reviewed prior to finalising the election process. “In view of the above, I therefore put on record that this state of affairs is grossly improper and unacceptable,” he added.

After the close of polls at 6 pm last Thursday, the counting of ballots at the GPSU headquarters, where Yarde’s office is located, began around 8.30 pm. The counting of one ballot box was completed that night, before workers were allowed to go home. The remaining ballot boxes from across the country were delivered on Friday, but no additional counting took place.

Gaspar on Friday had said that he believed the postponement to be a stalling technique by Yarde.

He had explained that there was an incident on Thursday night where observers were asked to leave the ballot boxes at the premises unsupervised, but they refused. As a result, Gaspar and two others camped out in their vehicles overnight to ensure the ballots remained secure.

On Friday around 10 am when this newspaper arrived at the union hall, they were still outside awaiting the arrival of the elections officer, who apparently did not make an appearance until midday.

Asked whether he believed the elections process had been free, fair and transparent, Gaspar responded in the negative, and cited instances in areas such as New Amsterdam, and cases, where public servants were unable to vote because their names were not on the list, although their union dues were up to date.

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