Commissioners still undecided over declaration date
Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Thursday met again to discuss the timeline for the completion of the National Recount Exercise, and new battle lines have been drawn up, namely the time within which to declare the final results of the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
The Commission is expected to resume meeting today (Friday), at which time discussions would continue over a likely June 13 completion of the exercise.
Stakeholders are deeply divided over the time that should be allowed for the electoral body’s deliberation on the recount
results before delivering a formal election declaration.
The Opposition Peoples’ Progressive Party/Civic, through its tabulation agent Anil Nandlall, gave the overview at the end of Day 23 of the Recount Exercise, scheduled according to the Gazetted Order for completion on Saturday.
With more than 900 of the 2,339 ballot boxes from across the country still to be recounted, Nandlall told media operatives on Tuesday that it is the PPP/C’s expectation that a one-week extension to the deadline would be adequate to complete the exercise.
According to the PPP/C tabulation agent, the party expected that, within anot
her week, Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield would have tabulated and compiled his report in order for the Commission to make a formal declaration. This, he said, the PPP/C believes to be sufficient time to wrap up the 2020 electoral cycle and to have a winner declared; but, “lo and behold, we are now faced with a situation where the Commission wants the recount and Lowenfield’s report to be concluded in 16 days, and the Commission doesn’t want to put a stipulated time for the declaration of the results by the Commission.”
Nandlall has since surmised, “They want to leave the time open-ended for them to deliberate on Lowenfield’s report.” The PPP/C agent said this is unacceptable, “because everything that we have done here would be rendered nugatory if we don’t get the declaration in time.”
Underpinning the declaration of a winner as the most important aspect of the recount exercise, the former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs pointed to the Commission’s initial gazetted timeline of 25 days for completion of the process.
According to Nandlall, “Now we are at that stage of negotiating an extension of time, and the Government commissioners are arguing to leave the time open-ended for the declaration of the final results to be made.”
This he dismissed as an unacceptable directive emanating from Congress Place, “because it is something they want to try in that interregnum.”
According to Nandlall, it is close to three months since the March 2 polls, and the country is no closer to a timeline for a definitive declaration of the results, and the prevailing circumstances could very well lead to a violation of the laws of Guyana.
He elucidated the position by pointing to the provisions that cater for a recount, and said there is a tabulation and subsequent declaration of the results of the recount. “There is no break in time, or no inordinate break in time; it’s a fluid process.”
This he summarised as, “You recount, you tabulate, and you declare the results; it’s one process”.
The former Minister of Legal Affairs used the occasion to reiterate that GECOM cannot investigate the allegations that are being raised by the incumbent and being documented in Observation Reports.
Government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander told media operatives that the observations must be deliberated on, and that would take time. He also suggested that GECOM Chairperson, retired Justice Claudette Singh, has signalled an intention to write the relevant authorities with a view to requesting corroborating documentation. This position is, however, vehemently opposed by the political opposition.
Articulating the PPP/C’s position on Thursday, Nandlall was adamant that the tabulated results must be used automatically. He told reporters, “I don’t know what they want to deliberate on.”
He was adamant that any attempt to morph the recount process into something beyond a numerical ascertaining of the ballots cast on March 2, would be stanchly opposed.
Nandlall told reporters that, as it is, there is no definitive timeline for a declaration of the results emanating from the recount process, and “we want them to tell us how much time…it cannot be for the rest of the year; they are not fixing a time. This country is on hold, people’s lives are on hold from this process.”
Duty to disclose
He was adamant that “any responsible commission has a duty to disclose to the population the timeframe, and it can’t be an unreasonable timeframe. Ordinarily, elections’ results are disclosed in two days.”
As it relates to the observation reports, Nandlall, denoted these to be summary of the objections being made primarily by the coalition A partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), and he said, “The position is that GECOM can’t do anything with it. GECOM cannot do anything with it in law.”
The former Attorney General was adamant that the Commission doesn’t have that mandate, or power, or structure to pursue the claims being made by the APNU+AFC agents, such as dead of migrated voters having voted. The observation report, he said, is being exploited, but the PPP/C was not too concerned, since GECOM could not pursue the claims legally.
“These are allegations that cannot be established because GECOM has no capacity to entertain or to allow their establishment or proof,” he declared.
Adamant that an election can be annulled only by the court, Nandlall reminded that GECOM is the institution holding the elections, and as such could not presume to be judge and jury in an inquest into itself.
“You have a problem how GECOM acted, you have to go to the court and they annul it. There is no position in the law at all for GECOM to deal with disputes,” Nandlall offered.
Asked to pronounce on his party’s course of action should the Commission go head and begin investigating the observations made, such as dead and migrated voters having voted, Nandlall told media operatives, “It will not be permitted; the court would stop it.”
He explained: “If at any time the Commission acts outside of its legal powers, the court will be there to correct it.”
Adamant that the PPP has nothing to hide, Nandlall told reporters that the PPP would not participate in an illegal exercise, and “if GECOM goes down a road that GECOM has no powers to travel, and wants to perform functions that GECOM has no right and power to perform, then the PPP will not participate in that process.”
Shying away from speculation, Nandlall told reporters the law does not permit GECOM to entertain those considerations.