A civil society grouping today said President David Granger’s deferring of the responsibility to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for the naming of an elections date is unacceptable.
The grouping which includes the Private Sector Commission, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and the Guyana Human Rights Association, said in a statement “Giving GECOM effective power to determine when elections will be held is a position for which no Constitutional support exists. Moreover, this maneuver revives the misgivings and insecurities generated by the controversial selection of the current Chair of a polarized GECOM who now has the casting vote on when elections will be held.”
It added that the constitution mandates GECOM to be ready within ninety days and there is no provision that allows the President to alter that provision as a pretext for not announcing a date for national elections.
The statement issued by the grouping follows:
President cannot delegate power to call elections to GECOM
Assuming the accuracy of press reports of President Granger’s meeting with GECOM on Friday last, the decision on when elections should be held has now effectively been passed to GECOM. President Granger is quoted as saying ,” we did not receive the sort of guidance that we need to enable me as President to make a proclamation to actually announce a date”. Giving GECOM effective power to determine when elections will be held is a position for which no Constitutional support exists. Moreover, this maneuver revives the misgivings and insecurities generated by the controversial selection of the current Chair of a polarized GECOM who now has the casting vote on when elections will be held.
Rendering GECOM as the final arbiter of when elections can be held was made more explicit by the statement that “I am confident that if the Guyana Elections Commission resolved or reconciled the different points of view, which exist in the Commission now, Guyanese could look forward to having elections at an early date as possible,”
Rather than identify the specific technical or administrative tasks whose ‘unreadiness’ is inhibiting announcement of a date for elections, the President located ‘unreadiness’ in the disagreements among GECOM Commissioners. This was made clear when the President spelt out the tasks as “going back to the drawing board to examine how quickly and how easily they could arrive at a consensual position; merge the various approaches; and ensure that the preparations for elections, which have already started. Once these are completed “we could have an agreement as quickly as possible.”
Since GECOM is comprised of persons chosen by the two major parties, assigning a problem that the two party leaders cannot resolve to their selected acolytes in GECOM seems intended more to evade than resolve the issue. Guyanese citizens deserve better.
The main preparatory tasks for elections are routine – prepare the Voters List, arrange polling stations, train staff, print ballot papers and administer polling day are routine. All of these technical issues are the responsibility of the Chief Elections Officer rather than resting on the opinions of the Commissioners. Given the not-too-distant local elections, GECOM is more prepared than normal. The only task around which ‘unprepared’ is ever raised is the Voters’ List.
In light of the role fake Voters Lists have played historically in Guyana, we cannot belittle their importance, but we need to keep our fears in proportion. The manner in which the 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985 elections were blighted by manipulated voters list left a generation of politically aware Guyanese scarred by the memories. The pinnacle of that experience was discovering that two ‘overseas voters ‘at an address in Manchester UK were in fact two horses in a field.
However, those excesses effectively ended when President Hoyte, bowing to the combined pressure of the civic movement GUARD and a number of other organisations and individuals as well as international opinion led by President Jimmy Carter, courageously postponed the 1990 elections and ordered a new Voters List to be prepared. The Voters List as a central problem of Guyanese elections has never since merited the same obsessive concern. While vigilance about a clean List is important, we have to be equally vigilant about political manipulation of historical memories.
President Granger singled out the need to ‘sanitize the ‘bloated’ Voters List as a particularly influential factor the Commission needs to address. He noted that we don’t want any citizen to feel disenfranchised. However, the reality is that a ‘bloated list’ does not disenfranchise individual citizens, since unregistered persons can find their way to one of hundreds of GECOM offices around the country as part of the continuous registration process GECOM conducts on a daily basis. The main problem of a ‘bloated list’ is it retains names of dead or migrated persons and to this extent artificially lowers the ‘turn-out’ percentages. The argument for a house-to-house renovation of the List, therefore, is that it is desirable, but it is not essential, given continuous registration. As a basis for setting aside the constitutional provision to hold elections in 90 days invoking the need for house-house registration, therefore, is unacceptable. Moreover, notwithstanding the decision to renovate the Voters List every seven years, neither of the major parties took steps to ensure this was undertaken and cannot credibly invoke the need to do so now.
For the above reasons, the Civil Society Forum believes that deferring the exercise of Presidential responsibility to set the date for elections to such time as GECOM determines its own readiness is unacceptable. The constitution mandates GECOM to be ready within ninety days and there is no provision that allows the President to amend that provision as a pretext for not announcing a date for national elections.
Civil Society Forum:
The Anglican Church of Guyana Guyana Human Rights Association
Movement Against Parking Meter Inter-Religious Organization
Guyana Presbyterian Church Roman Catholic Church
Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated Guyana Rastafarian Community
Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union Private Sector Commission
Red Thread Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana