Citizens have every right to suspect GECOM’s intentions

Dear Editor,
Something is rotten at Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). GECOM is not doing everything it needs to ensure free and fair elections. While the PPP has been fighting this battle, the small parties have remained silent, as if there is nothing to bother about. Their silence is acquiescence.
There is a community in Paradise and several adjoining communities along the Essequibo Coast, Region Two, that have used two traditional polling places for many elections, going back to the 1990s and all the recent ones in 2006, 2011, 2015 General and Regional Elections and the 2016 and 2018 Local Government Elections. These places were Ramlackan Rice Mill and Sea Rice Mill (now Hack’s Rice Mill). For the March 2, 2020 elections, GECOM will no longer use these two polling places. Instead, people will be forced to walk long distances to a polling place that has become a poster child for corruption and squandermania and that has earned the nickname – Donkey Park. It is presently in no condition to be used as a polling place, less than one week from the elections. It is a long distance from where people live. It is desolate. It is far from being more secure than the two places it has replaced.
This is one of the many examples where the replacement of private properties with a public building is begging certain questions that no one has answered. We have heard one reason being proffered for the change of some of these private places to public buildings – greater security. Justice Claudette Singh must inform the nation what were the security problems encountered at these private properties in the past that now has led to them being unsuitable. It is not for one election, but for many elections that these places earned their reputation as traditional, safe voting places. So what is the record of security problems encountered in the past? If none, they have proven safe. What then are the new security problems envisaged? How are these places less secure than the ones replacing them? How is Donkey Park more secure than the two traditional sites?
It is a hallmark of free and fair elections – making it easier, more comfortable, less fearful, for people to vote. Ramlackan Rice Mill and Sea Rice are polling places right smack in the middle of the communities they served in the past. Donkey Park is a much longer walk for the vast majority of people in that voting catchment area, its desolateness making it more fearful for people. The change has made it more difficult for voters, not easier, less comfortable, lining up in the sun or rain if it is bad weather. What then is the logic for the change – is it that the change is intended to add to the credentials of free and fair elections or add to voter suppression? Justice Singh needs to address these concerns of the people of Region Two and the Guyanese public.
The details for this one change is similar to many other changes made for the March 2, 2020 elections. Across the country, there has been a significant reduction in the number of polling places and none of the reasons given for the cut-back makes any sense. The example above indicates the total lack of any logic in the change made. The removal of polling places where people live in areas like Mon Repos, Good Hope etc and sending whole communities of thousands of people into one school, as pointed out by the former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall and the PPP, meet none of the reasons given by GECOM.
In Mon Repos alone where there were 19 polling places traditionally, including several private places, more than 10,000 people will crowd into two polling places at the Mon Repos Nursery and the Mon Repos Primary School. In Foulis, there were previously 9 polling places in private properties and one public place, this large voting population will now vote in tents on the line top. In Good Hope where people have traditionally voted in five polling places, three of them located in private properties, voters will now vote in tents on the line top and at one public place, which happens to be a small nursery school. This is a recipe for chaos. There is absolutely no improvement in security and no improvement in access, safety and overall making the process easier for voters.
The introduction of tents into the election defies logic that GECOM is trying to improve security, comfort and access for voters. There is no way the tents are more secure than the polling places used in the 2011, 2015 elections and the 2016 and 2018 Local Government Elections. How come coincidentally, the voters affected are in PPP strongholds? What then are the motivating factors for the change?
The excuse that GECOM has decided to de-emphasise private properties and to move polling places into public sector facilities is reduced to hogwash when one examines the list of polling places published by GECOM. In strongholds of APNU/AFC, such as in South Georgetown, the number of private properties used has increased. GECOM itself has confirmed it is not ending the practice of using private properties. Clearly, the places where private properties have been discontinued are in traditional PPP strongholds and in places where it has been maintained and even increased are in APNU/AFC strongholds. Is this a coincidence? Is this driven by a sinister motive?
The contention that the decision was not arbitrary, but was made by the Commission as a whole has been rebutted. Three Commissioners have reported that they consented to a list of polling places in January 2020 that included those that have now been abandoned and that a new list was indicated on February 17, 2020, a list they never discussed or consented to. It was an arbitrary decision.
Something sinister is afoot and Justice Claudette Singh must explain these anomalies to the Guyanese people.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy