Compressed timeframe can achieve objectives – senior GECOM official
…says dialogue should determine way forward
…Christmas Day deadline impractical
Statements from officials that elections can only be conducted after Christmas Day should be taken with a grain of salt. This is according to a senior Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) official, who, however, noted the importance of dialogue between the Opposition – People’s Progressive Party – and the Government to find a solution.
According to the official, the call for House-to-House Registration needing to take at least five months, when elections is already months overdue, cannot be taken seriously.
The December 25 timeline was first put forward by GECOM lawyer Stanley Marcus to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) during a post-judgement hearing a few weeks ago. What is needed, the senior official said, is for GECOM to compress its activities to ensure everyone is satisfied with the process.
“I think it’s [important] to have a list you can trust. The question is whether this list is good enough or not. [We] can do an election, I would imagine, in a shorter time than what I hear people peddling about December 25,” the official said.
“I think the lawyer may have been saying that facetiously,” the official added. “I don’t think he said it with any conviction. So, perhaps the two parties can discuss how we can shorten the period of House-to-House Registration and then, subsequent to that, a two weeks’ Claims and Objections and we have the elections pretty early.”
While this is the practical course of action, the official expressed concern that political persons are pushing agendas that are counterproductive to dialogue and compromise. And these voices, the official said, are drowning out the smaller voices of reason.
Last month, the CCJ ruled that the No-Confidence Motion of December 21, 2019, was validly passed against the Government. It also ruled that Alliance For Change (AFC) defector, Charrandas Persaud was entitled to vote against his party list and that even as a dual citizen, his vote was still valid.
On the matter of then GECOM Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson, the court ruled that not only was his appointment unconstitutional, but the President ought to have given the Opposition Leader an explanation as to why consecutive lists of nominees were being rejected. Patterson has since resigned, igniting dialogue between President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to select his replacement.
But regardless of what the CCJ ruled, the coalition Government has been blatant in its disregard for the court and has said that it is not prepared to call elections unless House-to-House Registration is carried out.
Registration is catered for under Section 6 of the National Registration Act Cap 19:08, with the intent of having those 14 and over included on the National Register of Registrants. But on August 4, 2005, then President Bharrat Jagdeo assented to amendments of the Act by including provisions for Continuous Registration.
These amendments were in keeping with an international push away from House-to-House Registration and towards Continuous Registration as the more effective method of registering voters.
According to Section 6 (A) of the Amendments, “the Elections Commission shall use the Official List of Electors from the 2001 General and Regional Elections as the base to commence continuing registration.”
This meant that persons not on the 2001 Official List of Electors were legally required to visit registration offices in their respective registration areas to apply to be included on the list (though it is understood that GECOM officers would usually visit the homes of those who are disabled). The same holds true for the next (and last) time House-to-House Registration would be done, which was in 2008.
The Opposition has consistently argued that House-to-House is nothing more than a delaying ploy and have noted that Claims and Objections are the way to go, even protesting for the President to set an election date on Friday. The CCJ meets on July 12 to hand down consequential orders on exactly what must be done to ensure the Constitution is followed.