Two representatives from the Carter Center yesterday met with members of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as part of an “exploratory mission” to gather information on preparations for the holding of General and Regional elections.
GECOM Chair James Patterson, Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield, Public Rela-tions Officer Yolanda Ward and GECOM’s legal officer along with the three PPP/C-nominated commissioners were present at the nearly one-hour meeting with Associate Director, Brett Lacy and Legal and Electoral Advisor Anne Marlborough
Ward later explained to this newspaper that the Atlanta, Georgia-based Center had reached out to GECOM to enquire about a meeting.
“They indicated that they have been following developments in the country in relation to the no confidence motion and wanted to meet with the commission to find out about the laws governing preparations for General and Regional Elections. It was just for information; a fact finding mission after which they would prepare a report for their seniors,” Ward explained.
She noted that Lowenfield provided the two representatives with key details in terms of the secretariat’s work and timelines and those commissioners present were allowed to express their position.
PPP/C-nominated commissioner Sase Gunraj said that all of the discussions related to the developments on the holding of elections following the passage of the December 21, 2018 no confidence motion. The representatives, he explained, were given the same updates that he had shared with the public over the last few weeks.
“They did ask about timelines and we provided them the various bits of information we have on the issue,” he said adding that it is not likely that the centre would facilitate any mediation.
“It is not within the role of GECOM to have any such mediation. Our duty is to hold elections when they are constitutionally due. There is no role for mediation in that,” Gunraj stressed.
Meanwhile government-nominated commissioner Vincent Alexander told this newspaper that he would not be abiding by any decision made at the meeting. Alexander was absent from the meeting as were the other two government-nominated commissioners Desmond Trotman and Charles Corbin.
“When we last met no meeting had been confirmed. I understand they tried to call me this morning but I was out of town and could not be reached for a meeting for which I wasn’t given timely notice,” he explained.
He went on to note that even as a “fact-finding mission” the meeting could have been dangerous as “facts are different depending on who presents it.”
While the secretariat led by Lowenfield has indicated that they will need 148 days in which to run off an election the government and opposition sides of the commission have both contested this timeline.
The PPP/C nominated commissioners are demanding that elections be held by the constitutional due date of March 21 while the PNCR- nominated commissioners argue that the official list of electors needs to be cleansed via house-to-house registration before any via election can be held.
Lowenfield has stated that house-to-house registration is likely to take nine months and recommended that a claims and objections period of 28 days be used to cleanse the list.
One argument raised by the governing coalition is that without house-to-house registration those persons who have recently reached voting age will be prevented from voting however the GECOM secretariat has noted that the official registrants list, which includes person 14 years and older, continuously updates the official list of electors once voters reach the age of majority.
Additionally, the continuous registration process used by GECOM as recently as April 2018 means that the current list likely includes all those who are eligible to vote.
Founded in 1982 and headed by former US President Jimmy Carter, the Carter Center has had a long association with electoral reforms and elections here. In 1990, Carter was able to broker pivotal electoral reforms with then President Desmond Hoyte such as counting at the place of poll and an expanded elections commission. The Carter-Price formula for the selection of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission was also attributed to the Center. That formula was discarded in 2017 by the Granger administration.
The Center played a pivotal part in the observing of the 1992 general elections which saw the PNC losing office to the PPP/C. The Center has since monitored a number of elections here including the 2015 general elections when Carter had to cut short his stint as he became ill.