PPP says still in the dark on redrawn constituencies for local gov’t polls

-says situation delaying identification of candidates

Zulfikar Mustapha

The changes made by government to the electoral structure of several Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and municipalities are all aimed at preventing a second landslide victory by the PPP at local government elections (LGE), the party said yesterday, while warning that it will not be intimidated.

“We are prepared to battle and prepared to ensure that… in the Local Authorities we will put on an even better showing than in 2016…,” Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira told a press briefing, which was held to air the party’s concerns about the upcoming elections.

At the top of its list of concerns is the fact that the boundaries and demarcations for some areas are still not known and that polling day staff is still being sought with less than three months to go before the elections are held.

On June 8th, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan published two orders which amended 14 Local Authority Areas (LAAs), removing a total of 16 constituencies and activating nine Local Government Authorities, including the Township of Mahdia. Bulkan later explained that this was done to make the process of local governance easier.

Reading a prepared statement, Executive Secretary of the PPP Zulfikar Mustapha made mention of this and added that as a result of Bulkan’s action there are now 80 LAAs.

He said that the PPP discovered that the Minister reduced the number of constituencies by 16 in 14 existing LAAs, thereby making them the subject of re-designation with proposed re-demarcation by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

Mustapha stated that as a result of the changes, a delegation from the PPP met with Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield on July 30th, 2018. “Mr. Lowenfield was amenable during the meeting to the PPP proposing alternatives to the Constituencies identified in each of the 14 Local Authority Areas (LAAs) contained in the specific Order,” he said.

He added that after perusing a proposal from Lowenfield, the party made several observations. Among them were that the PPP had not been previously informed about the specific re-demarcations in the constituencies in the identified 14 LAAs. As a result, he said the PPP was at a great disadvantage. “This is causing serious delays in commencing and finalising the identification of candidates and backers for the 2018 LGE as the geographic identity of the proposed constituents remains unknown,” Mustapha said.

In responding to this, GECOM’s Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward told Stabroek News yesterday that earlier in the day the entity received a letter from the party requesting the specific re-demarcations. She stressed that this information is easily available as GECOM has been out in those areas providing residents with the required information. Ward noted following the issuance of the orders, it was the responsibility of the entity to inform those residents of the new demarcations so that they could be aware of the constituency that they fall within.

She said that GECOM officials held 17 meetings from July 25th to August 18th with the residents of the 14 LAAs, including Mahdia, and the information was provided.

Ward stated that within the shortest possible time, GECOM will officially respond to the PPP’s letter.

Absorbed

Mustapha said that having examined the specific constituencies which have been reduced and which will now have to be absorbed or merged into other constituencies in these LAAs, “the Party is of the firm opinion that the proposed changes, as reflected in the Ministerial Order, would give an electoral advantage to the governing APNU Party as opposed to the other contestants in those LAAs.”

He pointed out that more than two months since the Order was gazetted by Bulkan he has failed to inform the public as to what were the reasons for the selection of those specific 16 Constituencies in the 14 existing LAAs.

“The Order as promulgated by the Minister, and being made operative by the Guyana Elections Commission, is not supported by the PPP as the demarcations have still not formally been communicated to the Party,” he said.

In addition, he said that the party has suggested to Lowenfield the need for security markers to be placed on all requisite forms to be used as part of the process for the elections. This, he said, would help to safeguard the integrity of the process. According to Mustapha, it was subsequently learnt the GECOM Commissioners, appointed by APNU “vehemently” opposed this suggestion.

“The PPP remains convinced that these developments point to gerrymandering of the boundaries of the Constituencies in 14 LAAs and the attempt to increase the APNU’s balance of votes,” he charged.

Teixeira, later responding to questions, opined that things are the way they are because the government wants to ensure that it is not “slaughtered” as they were last time. She reminded that 65% of the local authorities have been won by the PPP.

“We recognised their elections strategy to try to have a much more respectable showing, particularly in advance of the 2020 elections and it is being done by a strategy including reducing constituencies in existing NDCs, particularly those 14 constituencies in which the PPP won or which they were tied constituencies, furthermore creating new local authority bodies… to try to improve the number of votes they collect,” she said.

She is of the view that the APNU is worried, hence government’s efforts to “interfere with the electoral process.”

“We expect this time that we will be able to come out strong again despite these obstacles and hurdles in our way…. The PPP is not daunted by these hurdles but by being aware of what the hurdles are we can better overcome them and we shall,” Teixeira said.

Neendkumar, another party executive, added that he is seriously concerned about the work programme of GECOM.  “GECOM’s proposed work programme is in serious trouble. Unless we get the boundaries clear…we cannot go and get the list of candidates,” he said, before adding that the party still has not been supplied with the voters’ list though the continuous registration period has ended.

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