‘It is true I am a protagonist for changing the methodology associated with the selection of Gecom commissioners’

Dear Editor,

Although I have already begun to truly enjoy my retirement, and although I have, over many years, been preparing for this new phase of my life, not lastly by programming myself not to be embroiled in discussions on issues associated with the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), it is imperative that, on occasion, some answers must be given to those who assail positions in which I deeply believe.

This once-and-for-all, final statement, pertaining to the stance taken by some letter writers on the methodology used to arrive at the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission, serves to engage the public’s attention that there are other options relative to the issue of choosing commission members.

What follows is the first part of my two-part statement.

Those persons, who want the current methodology associated with the choice of Gecom Commissioners to remain the same, use the current Constitution (the very one often denounced by non-Burnhamite political parties) as the base of their arguments.  Such views maintain that the content of the Constitution is virtually immutable, and that the electoral aspects of the Constitution must not now be altered, especially not the methodology for selecting the Commissioners of Gecom.  They maintain that the commission is, by its inherent nature, bipartisan, and must so remain.  They argue that the ‘Carter Formula’ of 25 years ago, which is currently in use is the acceptable view of all stakeholders.  Well, that is patently untrue.

Firstly, allow me to remind that the Carter Formula was painstakingly worked out in an atmosphere of great distrust among the major political movements at the time, many of which were clamouring for change in the political culture of our country.  The then ruling party (not lastly advocating the paramountcy of the party over the government) was not even prepared to accept the counting of the ballots at the place of poll.  Such was the environment when the Carter Formula was introduced in 1992.  This arrangement was never intended to last forever.

After the experiences of the 1994, 1997 and the 2001 elections, here is what, inter alia, the Carter Center had to say in 2001:

“The ‘Carter Formula’ which was critical to the success of the breakthrough transitional elections in 1992 has allowed, in subsequent elections, party interests to interfere with effective electoral administration”.  The same report advised that “as part of electoral reform efforts, Guyana should give careful consideration to alternative models, possibly reducing or eliminating political party representation [on the commission] and increasing the role of independent members of civil society and professional experts”.

Not only does the Carter Center recognize the need for consideration of “alternative models” relative to the establishment of our Elections Commission, but some practising political party leaders have consistently observed not only the unfairness of the commission composition (the AFC continuously laments that it never had one of its members on the commission to represent its views), but that the method used in 1992 to establish the commission was at best a transitional device and that the current laws attending to the Electoral Commission’s composition (including that of a chairman) have exhausted their usefulness.

Moreover, it is important to point out that credible, experienced, tested and proven elections observers have documented in respect of the Gecom composition, the following:-

  1. The Carter Center (after the 2001 elections referred to above) documented that:

“In advance of future elections, Guyana should consider reforms that would reduce the politicized composition of Gecom and move toward an Elections Management Body (EMB) with a structure, composition and operations that are more consistent with international good practice and obligations, thus ensuring the independence and impartiality of the EMB”.

The Carter Center inflexibly advocated the same position after the 2006 and 2015 elections.

  1. The Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec) after the 2006 elections, issued the following statement:

“Strong consideration should be given to ending the practice of having political appointees as members of the Guyana Elections Commission. The present formula compromises the effectiveness and integrity of the Commission, which needs to be independent and above partisan politics at all levels”.

Further, ComSec’s Elections Observer Report on the May 2015 elections stated that “the process of allowing Political Parties to appoint Commissioners to the Elections Commission results in an overreliance on the neutrality and political independence of whoever is the Chairperson of the Commission”.

  1. The Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB), after the 2006 General and Regional Elections, recommended that:

“The Guyana Elections Commission must be comprised of technocrats and non-political persons, who should be chosen by an appropriate mechanism, so as to ensure broad support for and confidence in the appointees”.

  1. The Organizations of American States (OAS), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Caricom Secretariat, at various relevant fora, have also consistently and adamantly suggested that, in order to improve the democratic process, improved methodologies should be constantly sought out and implemented, relative to the establishment of Commissions within their respective jurisdictions.

It has been mentioned that I wish to undermine the Constitution by desiring to change the methodology associated with the selection of commissioners.  I admit that I am a great protagonist for this change.  The present circumstances must inexorably lead towards untameable fractiousness, conflict and challenges in managing the commission, especially when a General Secretary of a party nominating the commissioners expects them “to be strong and continue fighting for the Party’s cause at Gecom”.

The raison d’être of Gecom’s existence is to administer free, fair and well-constructed electoral processes, and while I recognize that the commission has to be sensitive to political realities, its independence and impartiality must be sacrosanct and protected at all costs.  Having party agents on the commission does not ensure either independence or impartiality.

Yours faithfully,

Steve Surujbally

Former Chairman of the Guyana

Elections Commission

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