Coming off of running a successful local government election just six weeks ago, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has the capability to pull off general and regional elections within the next 90 days, according to Opposition-nominated commissioner Bibi Shadick.
Asked yesterday if GECOM was prepared to hold general and regional elections by the end of March, Shadick said, “Yes. GECOM has just pulled off an elections. We don’t have to go back to creating a new list. Our list is valid. That is usually a delaying factor.”
The list of voters, she said, is valid from the 31st October to the end of April. “We have the machinery and staff that we had for the November local government elections that could work again. For those areas that did not take part in the elections, we have enough trained staff to manage those areas. GECOM can pull off an elections in one month.”
Shadick said, “I have spoken to my fellow commissioners this morning because the operations sub-committee, which will have to meet …they have to meet today (yesterday) with the Chief Election Officer and they have to begin a work plan and have that work plan ready for elections.”
The holding of elections within 90 days was triggered on Friday night following the approval of a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly brought against the government by the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
MP Charrandas Persaud of the ruling A Partnership of National Unity and AFC coalition voted in favour of the motion which was moved by Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo.
Asked the same question as to whether GECOM was ready to hold elections within three months, Government-appointed commissioner Desmond Trotman said, “as far as I know the staff at GECOM are an efficient bunch and I rather suspect they will be in a position if and when they are called upon.”
He said the best person to answer the question about preparedness for early elections was Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield. Stabroek News was yesterday unable to contact Lowenfield, Deputy Chief Election Officer Roxane Myers and Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward.
Trotman said there are some vacant key positions, including an assistant chief election officer, civic and voter education officer, and a logistics officer, to be filled. The positions not being filled, he said, could impact negatively on the smooth running of the elections because general and regional elections could be more demanding on the electoral process.
Asked why the positions have not been filled, Trotman said, the opposition-nominated commissioners have been refusing to attend interviews to fill the vacancies on grounds that they are awaiting the outcome of an investigation being conducted by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) on the ethnic composition of GECOM staff. This investigation is based on a complaint the Opposition-nominated commissioners filed with the ERC claiming that the hiring of senior GECOM employees was in favour of African Guyanese.
Asked how the absence of the key officers will affect the running of the general and regional elections, Shadick said, “We ran the local government elections without the chief logistics officer and others. They have people acting in those positions and that can continue. The local government elections could not have been successful if there weren’t people doing the job.”
She continued, “We can’t go and employ staff now in time for the elections which are now due. The last local government elections involving 80 local authority areas with the exception of Timehri and parts of the hinterland, were run off well. They had no major deficiencies in the LGEs and if anything was done wrong that was easily corrected. If they need to hire temporary staff, they will hire temporary staff.”
Asked what will happen in the event that Commission Chairman, James Patterson is unable to perform his duties, Shadick said, “As far as I am told, the chairman will be able to carry out his duties. He was ill. He is now resting at home and he is getting better. As far as I am concerned the chairman does not have to physically do anything.”
At present, she said, “We have a valid list. That would have been the greatest hurdle. We have things in place. The bulk of the job will be on the Chief Election Officer. I don’t see anything insurmountable.”
The elections process, she said, appeared to always take long and that was because of the voters’ list, which is now updated every six months.