APNU/AFC Govt not committed to transparent elections – Carter Center
– commits to mandate of observing Guyana’s electoral process
Almost one week after the caretaker APNU/AFC Coalition denied a second request for the Carter Center’s Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) to return to Guyana for the ongoing National Recount, the US-based organisation has expressed its disappointment at not being able to return to complete its mandate.
In a statement on Thursday, the Carter Center said it is “deeply disappointed” by the Guyana Government’s decision to deny its requests twice for two accredited international observers to return to Guyana to observe the ongoing recount and the remainder of Guyana’s electoral process.
“…the Center is disappointed that the Government of Guyana chose not to demonstrate a genuine commitment to transparency by ensuring that all duly accredited organisations, including The Carter Center, be allowed to conduct their work,” the US-based organisation stated.
It noted that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has consistently confirmed that the accreditation of The Carter Center and other international observation groups remains valid, and that the electoral process is not complete, hence international observers are welcome.
Last Friday, caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Karen Cummings indicated that Government has denied the Carter Center Mission’s request, along with that of advisors from the International Republican Institute (IRI), to return to Guyana for the recount exercise, citing the series of emergency measures, including the imposition of a curfew and the closure of Guyana’s international airports. Further, she asked that her administration’s decision be respected.
But according to the Carter Center in its Thursday missive, it fully respects Guyana’s national sovereignty and its efforts to strictly implement its COVID-19 Emergency Measures as a matter of utmost urgency.
However, it did note that the Center had indicated its willingness to abide by all of the Government’s COVID-19 protocols, including those applied to the CARICOM team which the Government says is the “most legitimate interlocutor” in the recount process. Those protocols stipulate that any returning observers must test negative for COVID-19 on a WHO-certified polymer chain reaction test in advance of travel to Guyana.
Nevertheless, the US-based democracy watchdog acknowledged the important role being played during the recount by the three-person CARICOM team as well as other observer groups, political parties and other stakeholders, and the positive contribution they are making to foster transparency.
Highlighting that it assesses elections based on national laws and international standards for democratic elections, the Center reiterated that the tabulation process lacked transparency in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), hence it is therefore not credible and did not meet international standards.
“The Carter Center was honoured to be invited by the Government to provide a neutral and independent assessment of Guyana’s electoral process… An accurate and honest counting of votes is essential to ensuring that the election reflects the will of the people. Even if pre-election and election day processes go well, a flawed vote count or vote tabulation can fatally undermine the integrity and credibility of the electoral process, and decrease public confidence and public acceptance of the results,” it noted.
To this end, the US-based organisation recommitted to its mandate of observing Guyana’s entire electoral process.
“The Center’s overall assessment of Guyana’s electoral process cannot be complete until the votes cast on March 2 have been counted, tabulated, and announced; and any subsequent dispute or resolution process completed… The Carter Center remains committed to its mandate to observe Guyana’s electoral process,” the missive detailed.
Moreover, the Carter Center reiterated the view that Guyana’s winner-takes-all system needs to be reformed, and encouraged all parties to commit to national reconciliation and to completing key constitutional reforms in the near future.
The Carter Center was hoping to return to Guyana ahead of the commencement of the National Recount in order to complete its electoral observation duties. However, with Guyana’s borders, including its international airports, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center’s efforts to join an empty relief flight in Miami that was heading to Guyana to repatriate US citizens earlier this month was denied.
Both the Carter Center and the US Embassy in Georgetown subsequently made a second request for the observers, along with advisors from the International Republican Institute (IRI), to return to Guyana. But despite mounting international and domestic pressure, this was also denied by the caretaker administration, which has however permitted oil giant ExxonMobil six to eight flights to bring in workers from across the world.
Opposition-nominated Commissioner at GECOM, Sase Gunraj, told reporters on Wednesday that the Commission has done its part, and it is now solely within the ambit of the Executive and that of the President to decide whether the US-based democracy watchdog could return.
However, President David Granger on Sunday said Guyana will rely on the role of CARICOM in this recount process.
Responding to the mountings calls for the Carter Center’s return to lend added credibility to the ongoing recount, Granger posited that while his administration had welcomed all observer missions for the March 2 elections, the current public health crisis has drastically changed the situation.
“This is nothing about credibility. What the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has written and spoken is Government policy, and I’d like people to respect what she has done and abide by the measures which the Government of Guyana has implemented… We take it very serious [and] we asked other countries to take our efforts seriously,” the caretaker President stated.
The Guyana Government, through Dr Cummings, not only refused the request of the US Ambassador, but the pleas of five top-ranking senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties in the US, for President Granger to allow the return of the Carter Center, as well as similar calls by senior representatives in the US Government, were also denied.
In a letter last week, the US Senators reminded Granger that his administration has been authorising flights to land for special situations, including the repatriation of foreign citizens in Guyana, including US citizens; as well as for the arrival of workers in the oil sector.
In addition to the Senators, even a bipartisan group of members of the US Congress had also made similar calls earlier this week.