GECOM Chairman says preparations on track for local gov’t polls

As the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) prepares to roll out it plans for the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE), its chairman, Justice (retired) James Patterson is adamant that there is no chance of the official voters’ list being padded.

“I am certain that the system is foolproof. That doesn’t mean someone as we would say (might not) `try ah thing’, but it is not going to work…”, he said during an interview with Stabroek News yesterday.

Patterson was responding to a question on the longstanding concerns about the quality of the voters list particularly the inclusion of persons who are deceased or who no longer reside in Guyana.

“Those questions will always surface for reasons that may not be genuine. It may not be genuine ignorance. It could be …some genuine concern”, he said.

LGE which are due by December this year will be held for a second time in under three years. Prior to 2016 they had not been held since 1994. The elections are to be held every three years.

During the interview, Patterson pointed out that GECOM’s top priority is successfully holding the elections within the statutory timeframe given.

“We are in the process of finalizing the last lap towards the Local Government Elections”, he said, adding that it is expected that final decisions will be made when he and his commissioners meet soon. He said  at that statutory meeting he hopes that they will flesh out the plan and make a final decision particularly as it pertains to a date for the holding of the elections, what will be the first activity leading up to it and when it will start.

While expressing confidence that the commission will be able to meet the December deadline, he noted that the preparation leading up to the finalized date includes an education campaign for electors particularly on how to exercise their vote. “We have got the benefit of years of experience behind us. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel but probably will fine tune it”, he stressed as he sought to give the assurance that GECOM knows what it has to do and has the capacity and the know-how to do so.

Patterson added that following next Tuesday’s meeting the Commission will announce the start of the education campaign.

No decision has yet been made as to where the commission will source materiel inclusive of ballot paper and ink for the elections. Patterson reiterated that this is among the decisions that will have to be made during the upcoming meeting between himself and the commissioners.

He told Stabroek News that the most the commission can do at the moment to ensure that there is a high turnout, without attracting the complaint of interference, is educating voters on how to vote and perhaps somehow “getting over to them that they should exercise their votes because the commission doesn’t have any face or favourite, certainly not this chairman”.

The last LGE saw a low voter turnout. GECOM had said that the total turnout for the March 18, 2016 election was lower than the previous elections held in 1994. In a release, the commission said that out of the 507,584 people eligible to vote 239,070 people (47.1%) chose to exercise their franchise. Of the votes cast in the 71 Local Government Authorities (LGAs), 236,323 were deemed valid.

The turnout figure represented a 10% increase over the estimated figure provided by Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield and also represented a decrease from the 47.91% of voters who participated in the 1994 LGE.

The Municipality of Linden had the lowest voter turnout while the highest was recorded in Mabaruma, Lethem and Bartica. Patterson stressed that he is comfortable that no “no hanky-panky” will take place at the elections.

Patterson said that when one goes to cast their ballot they must do so with the full knowledge and confidence that “nobody is coming in your name or trying to look like you and your vote is safe. Every vote matters”. He said that it is now up to the parties contesting “to do their thing to get their voters out to vote for them, not GECOM”.

Patterson told Stabroek News that contrary to what is being bandied about, his relationship with the elections commissioners is cordial. “I am not biased to say that because there are lawyers on it”, he said, before adding that they each support the democratic process.

He stressed that he has come to the helm of the commission with “a fresh mind, not encumbered with clutter or pre-set positions”.

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