2020 election horrors still haunt Guyanese

1 year later

…as small parties rejoice in democratic triumph

TCI Leader Rhonda Lam

It has been one year since the historic March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections – unfolding five months of surreal drama and roadblocks that would go down in history as the mother of all elections.
The anniversary has teleported some back to March 2 last year, where almost every Guyanese was unprepared for the series of events that would ultimately threaten the country’s democracy and bring about the perils of sanctions.
It would have started with elections officials using unverified spreadsheets with inaccurate figures to verify the votes; an election worker being caught with the flash drive and a laptop which were being used in the tabulation process; the then Government revoking the accreditation of international observers, and a bomb threat to remove party agents from the Command Centre.

LJP Leader Lenox Shuman

With the delay, Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo made a fraudulent declaration of the election result for Region Four – without the process of verification of the SoPs being completed in the presence of stakeholders.
The PPP/C immediately moved to secure injunctions against the declaration but GECOM had released to the media the fraudulent declaration made by Mingo, which showed the then incumbent APNU/AFC securing 136,335 votes and the PPP/C winning 77,258 votes for Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica).

GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj

On March 11, acting Chief Justice Roxane George ruled that the verification process be done in a transparent manner. As such, on March 12, the verification process recommenced, but Mingo continued to read figures that vastly differed from the SoPs. When the matter was brought to the attention of the GECOM Chair, she suspended the activities until she could get the court’s written judgement.
After the irregularities persisted, Mingo returned to the Command Centre and announced that the process would resume later that afternoon at GECOM’s High Street Secretariat, where he made a second unlawful declaration.

Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo being taken to hospital

It was then Chair of Caricom, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced that then President David Granger and then Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had agreed to a Caricom-supervised recount.
Containers containing ballot boxes were moved to the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, where Granger and Jagdeo had to sign an agreement before the recount began.
On the afternoon of March 17, GECOM was served with an injunction, which was filed by an APNU/AFC supporter, Ulita Moore, blocking the recount exercise. As a result, the Caricom team departed Guyana, prompting the Chairwoman to issue a statement expressing that “It is clear that there are forces that do not want to see the votes recounted for whatever reason” and further warning that “any Government which is sworn in without a credible and fully transparent vote count process would lack legitimacy”.
The Court of Appeal, on April 7, delivered a judgement on the Moore case, paving the way for the commencement of the countrywide recount. The Appeal Court ruled that GECOM has the authority to do a recount of ballots, but cannot accord this power to any other body.

APNU/AFC protesters at the Police barricade outside of GECOM

However, the recount only commenced on May 6, 2020, but international observers had departed due to the prolonged legal battle and amid COVID-19 concerns. When it was time for the recount to begin, several international observers, including The Carter Center, were denied permission to enter Guyana.
The recount exercise lasted 33 days and saw smaller parties joining forces to lobby for democracy to be restored. After the process was completed, it confirmed that the PPP/C won the elections with a commanding 233,336 votes, a noteworthy lead of 15,416 over its nearest political rival, the APNU/AFC.

The makeshift projector screen used by Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo at GECOM

Litigations in the courts and obstacles to extend the coalition’s time in office had already passed many months. Then exactly five months later, Dr Irfaan Ali was sworn in as President of Guyana on August 2, 2020.

Never be forgotten
Speaking with Guyana Times on how the year has played out, GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj explained that this electoral period will never be forgotten. He pointed out that the far-reaching attention that the process garnered and the coverage it gained makes it well-documented.
“The aftermath of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections will go down in history whenever election, democracy, Government or any such discussion is had in the future regarding Guyana. It is quite the story that we had to go through that, especially at this point of our history. Notwithstanding, the events that occurred after March 2 are very well documented, not only by the traditional media, but on social media where it was played out instantaneously and all of that,” Gunraj said.

Some members of the Guardians of Democracy, who were continuously keeping watch on the containers, in which the ballot boxes are stored, at GECOM Headquarters

According to him, the fact that top electoral officials are already being hauled before the court brings some relief and hopefully, the contention that such acts should never be repeated.
“We see several perpetrators of those shenanigans still seeking to maintain relevance in today’s society but quite pleasingly, we see persons are already placed before the court et cetera, so that they can account for their role in that process. Simply put, the outcome I would like to see from all of this is that such actions are never contemplated, attempted, and more so, repeated in Guyana in the future.”
When asked whether he is satisfied with the progress made to prevent a recurrence of such events, the Commissioner noted, “While I know that there are several legislative and other administrative changes that are planned, unless and until all of those are given effect, I cannot express my pleasure or displeasure.”
Leader of the Citizenship Initiative (TCI) party, Rhonda Lam shared with this publication on Monday that there is still a sense of surrealness that the country experienced such a tumultuous episode. She gave credit to the recount exercise for revealing the true victor from the polls.
“It’s still surreal that it’s been a year since we had elections and the things I saw and the kind of pressure that had to be placed on people to do the right thing was insane. If we hadn’t opened those boxes to see what was going on, the people of Guyana would have been none the wiser. Honestly, I still can’t believe it’s been a year already,” Lam said when contacted.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Lenox Shuman, who leads the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), said he views the long-winded electoral process as squandering costly time that could have been directed at developing the country.
“We have to keep in mind that the Government is not too old but I want to reflect on what transpired after the votes occurred on March 2. We went through a long and tedious five months of recount, court challenges amongst a variety of things. I think that’s five months that have been wasted in moving forward and Guyana’s progress. It is unfortunate. I think there is a breath of relief,” Shuman positioned.
He expressed that confidence has been restored in the way citizens conduct their business, having realised that the economy is stabilised.
“During the five months, the traffic was sparse, people seemed a bit apprehensive about coming out in public and spending money and those things. The fact that we see a lot of people moving about shows that people have confidence in the community, they have confidence in stability. What I’m hopeful for is that we as a country grow through this process,” he told Guyana Times during the sidelines of the parliamentary debates. (G12)