Carter Center hopeful of polls deadline extension

-warns of Guyana entering ‘constitutional uncertainty’

Jason Carter

Warning that Guyana could enter “a time of constitutional uncertainty” without an agreement on the way forward, the Carter Center yesterday said it remained hopeful that the National Assembly would meet no later than today to approve an extension of the deadline for elections.

“The Carter Center reiterates its support for Guyana and urges all sides to find an agreed-upon way forward to establish an early election date,” the Atlanta, Georgia-based non-governmental organization said in a statement issued yesterday based on its engagements with political leaders on both sides, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Secretariat and commissioners, and a variety of other stakeholders. “The Carter Center hopes the National Assembly is able to convene no later than March 22 to authorize an extension of the election timeline and to avoid a period of constitutional uncertainty,” it added.

The statement said that a Carter Center delegation, led by Jason J. Carter, Chairman of the Carter Center’s Board of Trustees, has been in Guyana this week meeting with key stakeholders to learn about the current challenges facing Guyana and to assess whether the Center could assist going forward.

It said prior to the delegation’s visit, former US President Jimmy Carter spoke with President David Granger and opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who both indicated that they would welcome a Carter Center team.

“The Center’s visit comes at a critical moment. Guyana could move into a time of constitutional uncertainty after March 22, which marks the end of a three-month period following a contested vote of no confidence and the deadline to hold elections, unless there is a political agreement about the way forward and either a National Assembly vote or a court decision to approve an extension of the electoral timeline,” it explained.

Although the deadline was held to be three-months after the passage of the disputed no-confidence motion against the government on December 21st, the Center noted that because March 21st is a national holiday, under Guyana’s Interpretation and General Clauses Act the constitutional three-month period following the no-confidence vote would expire on the following day, which is March 22nd.

As a result, while noting that both President Granger and Jagdeo have a shared desire to have elections in the shortest possible time, consistent with law and pending judicial decisions, the Center voiced its hope for the House to be convened no later than today to authorize an extension of the elections timeline.

The Center acknowledged that GECOM commissioners recognize that the current voters’ list is “bloated” and a primary concern is the likely inclusion of significant numbers of Guyanese living overseas. It added that GECOM commissioners hold different views about whether or not to conduct a new house-to-house registration exercise to address this concern. At the same time, GECOM’s Chief Election Officer has prepared various scenarios for election timelines, and in the event that a new house-to-house registration is not required, elections could be organized in July or August. However, a new national house-to-house registration would mean an election would not be possible until late November at the earliest.

Given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the vote of no confidence and the constitutional requirement for early elections, the Center said there are several steps that could be considered to try to mitigate concerns about the voters’ list while scheduling elections as early as possible, including GECOM using data from the Ministry of Immigration [Citizenship] to prepare a reference list of Guyanese who are currently overseas (for three months or longer) and also included in the national voters’ register. “The voters on the reference list would not be removed from the registration list (other than through already existing legal procedures like, for example, the claims and objections process). But the reference list would be made available to party agents and scrutineers to facilitate enhanced review of these names during the electoral process, both during the claims and objections period and on election day, serving as a deterrent to multiple or substitute voting,” it explained.

It added that the reference list would supplement safeguards already in place in Guyana’s electoral administration to protect against multiple voting, while noting that the Center has previously recognized that Guyana’s existing safeguards are strong and consistent with international standards for democratic elections.

In addition, the Center said GECOM could consider providing resources to expand the number of political party agents and scrutineers who can monitor the electoral process before, during, and after elections day. It further said these efforts could be complemented by a strong presence of international observers and domestic citizen observers to enhance transparency.

A Carter Center delegation met with members of GECOM on Wednesday, when the compromise proposal was floated. There has been no pronouncement from either government or the opposition on it.

The Center also said that it is aware of pending decisions from the Court of Appeal and that these decisions may be appealed to the Caribbean Court of Justice and that in the event that final court rulings invalidate the vote of no-confidence, elections would not need to be held this year.

The visiting delegation also includes David Carroll and Brett Lacy of the Center’s Democracy Program.  

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