‘Ballot box watchers’ do so at GECOM’s discretion

…law does not contemplate party agents as security

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has made it clear there is no law directing that party agents be part of the security apparatus safeguarding the ballot boxes holding the votes cast in the recently held March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.

A group of PPP/C supporters

In fact, the Commission is of the view that the party agents that have been permitted to observe the ballot boxes at GECOM’s compound do so at the discretion of the electoral body.
The Commission on Thursday said it was responding to a WhatsApp message circulating with a claim that “GECOM is now restricting party agents from moving around containers to ensure that they are safe and have not been compromised.”
The Commission, as such, resorted to Section 141 of the Representation of the People Act, which states that in any indictment, information or complaint for an offence in relation to ballot boxes, ballot papers and other election material, the property in them may be stated to be in the custody of the Chief Election Officer.
GECOM, as such, is adamant that the law does not contemplate party agents being key stakeholders in the security of ballot boxes, once these have been deposited in the custody of the Commission.
According to the Commission, “Though there is no legal provision for party agents to act as security for electoral materials, in the present circumstance, Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission made a decision on March 15, 2020 that one agent per political party be accommodated in GECOM’s compound for the sole purpose of watching containers with General and Regional Elections 2020 ballot boxes.”
It said, too, that pre-dating the General and Regional Elections 2020, there is an administrative arrangement for all contesting parties to place a padlock on each container with ballot boxes.
It was noted, however, that only two main parties – A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) and the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) — have placed chains and padlocks on each container in the custody of the Commission.
According to the Elections Commission, it “recognized that the safety and security of its staff and compound were compromised by the presence of party agents.”
As such, as of March 25, 2020, political parties have been “asked to desist from photographing and taking videos of staff members and GECOM’s routine operations.”
A number of party leaders and representatives have, since the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, taken to monitoring the ballot boxes in the possession of GECOM stored in containers.
These include Presidential Candidate of the Liberty and Justice Party, Lennox Shuman; Kian Jabour and Mark France of A New and United Guyana, and Rhonda Lam of The Citizenship Imitative, in addition to scores of PPP/C supporters and leaders.
Taking on the moniker “Guardians of Democracy,” some have set up camps at the corner of Cowan and Fort Streets Kingston, Georgetown, as well as at Cowan and High Streets, Kingston. They are out there all day and night, using a shift system for different groups.
This past week, the PPP publicly expressed sincere gratitude “to Guyanese for their overwhelming support in protecting our democracy by turning out in large numbers to show support and assist with protecting the integrity of the ballot boxes stored in the containers first at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Liliendaal and now at High and Cowan Streets, Kingston.”