Today at 9 am the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) will attempt once again to complete the tabulation of the votes cast in Region Four during the March 2 General and Regional Elections (GRE). The method to be used to effect this count however remains unknown.
“The Returning Officer as the Statutory Officer will so advise,” GECOM Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward indicated when asked.
Based on an order of the High Court the process should have begun in earnest by 11 am yesterday but it was once again suspended after political parties and observers objected to the use of a “spreadsheet” by Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo.
According to a representative of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Observer Group, Kit Nascimento, this attempt was met with objection from all present especially since Mingo admitted that the “spreadsheet” to be used was the same one first presented last Thursday.
Nascimento was the sole representative of the PSC present during this process. Mingo had decided earlier as a means of crowd control to allow only one representative from each contesting party and observer group entrance to the Counting Office.
Also present were six GECOM commissioners and senior staff of the GECOM secretariat.
In a Facebook post on the matter, opposition-nominated commissioner Sase Gunraj explained that rather than present or use Statements of Poll to ascertain the total number of votes cast in favour of each contesting party Mingo insisted on using the spreadsheet.
“After sending for the Statements of Poll (SOP) and receiving a few, RO Mingo returns and is adamant about using a spreadsheet that he admits was prepared prior to his previous actions being vitiated by the Chief Justice’s ruling [Wednesday]. He is now refusing to entertain objections to the process. He insists that he will proceed and if anyone has queries they should note them,” he later added.
At this point GECOM Chair retired justice Claudette Singh arrived and was prevailaed upon to resolve the impasse. According to Nascimento he stressed to her that “the buck stops with you.”
In response Singh suspended the counting until such time as she had read the written decision of Chief Justice Roxane George.
The PPP/C which had filed the initial action responded by threatening Mingo with contempt proceedings.
In a letter to Mingo, attorney Anil Nandlall stressed that Section 86 of the Representation of the People Act states that the tally process must take place in the presence of the Returning Officer, and such other Elections Officer appointed by him, members of the Commission, duly appointed Candidates, counting Agents and such other persons, as in the opinion of the Returning Officer, have good reason to be present.
He also noted that instead of using the SOPs, Mingo chose to use a pre-prepared spreadsheet as the basis for ascertaining and adding up the votes while preventing duly appointed candidates from being present.
“The above constitute flagrant violations of the Order of the Honourable Chief Justice and I hereby give you and all persons carbon copied herein notice that I have been instructed to file comtempt of court proceedings in respect of those violations, as well as any otherwise, which may arise or has arisen,” he concluded adding that contempt of court is a criminal offence which attracts as a punishment a term of imprisonment and aiding and abetting a contempt carries the same penalty as the contempt itself.
The letter was copied to the Chair of GECOM, the Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield, the Commissioners of GECOM and Neil Boston, SC, attorney for the named parties.
Later at a press conference Nandlall and PPP/C Counting Agent Zulficar Mustapha maintained that they could not accept use of the pre-prepared sheet.
Mustapha explained that for 421 Polling Stations both agents and observers were able to observe a count of the votes cast using the Statements of Poll in the manner which complied with Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act.
RO Mingo presented the SOP, called out the numbers and entered it into a spreadsheet in full view of all stakeholders but yesterday this process ceased and a pre-prepared spreadsheet was introduced.
It remains unclear if Mingo intended to do a ballot box by ballot box verification as he has not been allow to describe his proposed method.
On Wednesday the CJ ruled the declaration of results in the Region null, void and of no effect, the Chief Justice also made it clear that there therefore could be no declaration of any final results of the elections, until the declaration of the vote count for electoral district four is properly done.
Though the Chief Justice found the declaration to be unlawful, she made it clear that it is within the ambit of GECOM alone, to decide whether it will restart the process of tabulating and presenting the votes, or whether it will continue from where it had previously left off.
Also, Justice George-Wiltshire made it clear that it was for the RO, who alone has the statutory duty, to decide on the manner and method to be used for validating the vote count, and no one else.