Elections 2020 probe vital in advancing transparency, good governance – Washington think tank
The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in a recent report, stated that President Irfaan Ali’s plan to launch an independent probe of the events surrounding the March 2 General and Regional Elections is vital in advancing transparency, good governance, and rule of law in Guyana.
The report: ‘Guyana: Opportunities and Challenges for the United States and the Caribbean Basin’, was authored by R. Evan Ellis and states that: “in the context of persistent political polarisation and negative sentiment in Guyana”, there are multiple opportunities for Government gestures designed to move the country forward.
“The Commission of Inquiry into electoral problems that the Ali Government has promised represents an important step with respect to advancing transparency, good governance, and rule of law,” Ellis states.
However, the author was quick to point out that there is a risk that those targeted by such an inquiry, with possible criminal charges for wrongdoing associated with the election process, “will try to misrepresent those actions to their supporters as the criminalisation of political opposition, fuelling further political polarisation”.
The report notes that former President David Granger has already accused the PPP/C Government of “persecuting” the Opposition.
The author outlines that in the same vein, the PPP/C Government’s legal review of funds expended during the tenure of the then Granger administration “has the potential to give rise to a series of criminal cases and political polemics throughout 2021 and beyond”.
Such cases, the author contends, would make the APNU leadership and support base feel “threatened and could potentially stimulate populist appeals that could deepen polarisation”.
According to the author, in political affairs, one of the most pressing tasks for the Ali Government will be to unite the country. “Most importantly, this includes reassuring voters — in a country ethnically and politically polarised between Indo-descendant and Afro-descendant populations — that the interests of all ethnic and other groups are fairly represented and protected”.
On this basis, the report highlights that President Ali’s positive and inclusive inaugural address was a good start, as was Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s expression of interest in working with the Opposition.
However, the author cautions that it remains to be seen how such gestures will be received by those who fought against the PPP’s return to power over the past two years.
The author reminds that “the angry discourse and violent protests” following the September 6 murders of two Afro-Guyanese youth in the West Coast Berbice area highlight the risk of escalating ethnic conflict in the country.
President Ali had announced that Government would be launching a CoI into the events that unfolded post the March 2 polls, and that the panel could be drawn from the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the Organisation of American States (OAS), and the Commonwealth – all of whom had dispatched electoral observation missions in Guyana that witnessed the attempts to undermine democracy in Guyana.
Meanwhile, in relation to the much-needed electoral reforms, the report points out that the more than twenty months of delays and political struggle that “almost prevented the PPP from attaining power” has highlighted weaknesses in Guyana’s electoral and other institutions, and the need to reform them.
The Ali Government has made electoral reform a top priority, and has already sought assistance from the international community in this regard.
The Government has assured that such reforms will ensure the tragedy which unfolded after the March 2 General and Regional Elections never recurs.
“The Government has committed to looking at the Representation of the People Act (RPA) and other pieces of legislation to reform them to cover all the loopholes that have been exploited by the political fraudsters after the elections,” Attorney General Nandlall had said.
Among the proposed reforms the AG had outlined is ensuring that Statements of Poll (SOPs) are published by the respective political parties on a website and made public within hours of receipt.
Efforts will also be made to ensure oversight mechanisms are in place to scrutinise the work of the Returning Officers (RO), thereby guarding against the declaration of false results by rogue officers.
The proposals also include a system wherein employment procedures and practices are used to ensure the best candidates are selected to work at elections, and to also have fixed qualifications, character references and testimonials for those officials.
It is also seeking to ensure that there is a heavy penal system accompanying electoral offences that will deter any official from doing wrong during the elections.
Notwithstanding, the Government had indicated that it would ensure that the process benefits from the viewpoints of all stakeholders.
In the aftermath of the controversial five-month-long elections, a number of high- ranking GECOM officials have been investigated by the Police and charged for misconduct in public office and for forgery.
They include Lowenfield, who on October 12 was slapped with six charges by the Police relating to forgery and misconduct in public office pertaining to his alleged role in the attempts to rig the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.
The CEO is accused of attempting to undermine the will of the people by repeatedly refusing to submit the verified results from the National Recount to Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh, for a final declaration.
The national recount exercise showed that the PPP/C won the elections with 233,336 votes. But Lowenfield had repeatedly refused to submit his final elections report with those figures, despite being so directed by the GECOM Chair on several occasions.
Lowenfield eventually complied, paving the way for the declaration and subsequent swearing in of the new Government on August 2, 2020 – five months after elections were held.
Also before the courts are Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo and Deputy CEO Roxanne Myers.