The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday defended a decision to deny a request by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) for an extension of the recently-concluded continuous registration exercise, saying that it has statutory timelines to meet.
“The conduct of elections in any part of the world is guided by statutory timelines. It is no different in Guyana and the PPP is fully aware of these key timelines,” GECOM said in a statement that was issued yesterday in response to the PPP’s claim that the decision, which was made by way of GECOM Chairman James Patterson using his casting vote to break a deadlock, was partisan.
The PPP on Wednesday noted that the exercise, which officially ended on July 8th, 2018, was initially scheduled to commence on May 7th, 2018, but actually began two weeks after that date, thereby truncating the registration period.
“The PPP firmly believes that the request for an extension was crucial and reasonable given that a number of eligible registrants were unable to engage in the process due to insufficient time. The disadvantage resulting from the shortened period was further compounded by an inadequate and ineffective public relations support mechanism,” it said in a statement.
According to the party, when its concerns were raised with Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, he noted that there was room for an extension in the schedule leading up to the local government elections, which are due on November 12th.
It charged that Lowenfield subsequently voiced a concern that even a schedule with a one-week extension would be “tight” and the party’s request was denied by a majority vote in which Patterson went against it.
“Given the importance of this process, especially in the context of openness and to prevent disenfranchisement, the PPP is disappointed that the Chairman, despite his recent public assurances of a free and fair election, was opposed to a short extension of the continuous registration exercise to allow persons who were unable to register and carry out other related transactions, including transfers, to do so,” the PPP said.
However, calling the PPP’s representation of the decision “misleading and mischievous,” GECOM said yesterday that a request for a two-week extension had been made by Chief Scrutineers prior to the start of the registration process and it was decided that an operations sub-committee of the Commission would discuss and explore the possibility.
“Unfortunately, the operations sub-committee did not meet for weeks due to numerous unforeseen circumstances. When the committee did meet, chaired by Commissioner, Sase Gunraj, the subject was extensively discussed. It was concluded that it would not be feasible to have an extension considering the statutory timelines. Consequently, Commissioner Gunraj tabled the sub-committee’s decision at the Commission’s plenary meeting on 3rd July, 2018,” GECOM noted.
Nonetheless, it said in the last week of the registration exercises, PPP Chief Scrutineer Zulfikar Mustapha wrote to the GECOM CEO requesting an extension and he was advised by the CEO that the Commission had deliberated on this matter and no extension would be granted.
“GECOM takes umbrage that the PPP is expressing disappointment that the Commission’s Chairman Ret’d Justice James Patterson was opposed to a short extension of Registration Exercises despite his recent public assurances of a free and fair election,” the statement said.
“GECOM has never prevented anyone eligible for registration from doing so. Everyone was afforded the same opportunity to ensure that they were registered over a seven-week period,” it added, while noting that as a transparent constitutional commission, GECOM has a work plan and statutory timelines to meet.
The Chairman, it further added, will make decisions in the best interest of the Guyanese people and not be held hostage by any political party.