Home Letters GECOM must be able to hold free and fair elections
In the aftermath of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections and a most disappointing and shameful performance by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), no rational thinking citizen will deny the need for a robust overhaul of the organisation that must return its independent effective professionalism. In context, its rebirth in the early 1990s using the Carter Center formula as a guide, must not be now destroyed. Rather, it must be further developed and enhanced to realise the conduct by GECOM, of free and fair elections in Guyana on every occasion.
The Carter Center’s initial and meaningful mediatory interventions in the election framework of Guyana was in 1990. Election due that year had to be deferred to facilitate necessary changes that provided a measure of fairness not previously extended in the prior six elections. It came at a time when our country was most at risk of being internationally ostracised, due to the customised rampant rigging at the behest of the PNC leadership, which had taken place for decades.
Supporting this abhorrence over this period was legislation that allowed their control of the independent selection of GECOM’s Chairman and by extension, staff. However, after years of international lobbying by Cheddi Jagan as Opposition Leader, the world refused to stand idly by and watch the continued elections rigging as the order of the day, and the absolute destruction of democracy in this part of the hemisphere.
In 1992, although there were constitutional changes that amended the previous draconian positions, it took a united Guyana along with the powerful and prominent Carter Center together with other regional and international organisations to prevail over free and fair elections largely threatened by the PNC’s reactionary “slow fiah – more fiah” response in Guyana.
The Carter formula at that time presented acceptable equity concerning staff selection and a fair balance on matters then treated in a PNC biased and partisan manner. This destroyed and countered the usual comfort control of the chief rigger, who was the then Chairman of the Elections Commission unilaterally appointed by the PNC. Our people will recall that President Granger embarked on that same old rigging approach when he unilaterally appointed James Patterson in 2018.
The appointment of Patterson immediately led to the dismissal of Vishnu Persaud who was the Deputy Chief Elections Officer. This afforded an unchecked leeway for Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield and the PNC acolytes. A full and unrestricted partisan takeover of the GECOM Secretariat and the elections machinery was the result. Former President David Granger’s machinations had begun to work, or so he and the PNC cabal thought. It resulted in a shield of resistance, both national and international, never catered for by the underhand faction.
In advancing the PNC’s mandate, the CEO et al irrationally stretched the interpretation of basic language beyond imagination subtly at first, but subsequently ended up with a level of bold madness. Contextually, one must therefore support the view expressed by President Dr Irfaan Ali in his recent interview on electoral reform when he said that “GECOM Secretariat must be restructured and officers of the entity must be professional in executing their duties.”
At the hands of the CEO, a vicious Secretariat sinisterly moved as if normal, to usurp the authority of the Commission and assumed full responsibility to fire and hire staff. It is the same Keith Lowenfield and his cabal who, however, refused to respond to or defend public allegations regarding the payment of millions of dollars to phantom workers as contracts were given out “willy-nilly” to friends and family.
It is recalled that during the coercive and illegal 2018 “House-to-House Registration” commenced by Lowenfield, the PNC’s control of that process was evidenced by manoeuvres that resulted in the employ of only PNC recommended persons to be scrutineers. Thankfully, the newly appointed Chairwoman Madam Claudette Singh had to abruptly halt the vulgar covert process.
Significantly, there were suddenly induced attacks on the agreed Carter formula with PNC devotees arguing that it had outlived its usefulness. Naturally, this was only because the adopted Carter Center system had placed a halt to the method where all the polling day staff was employed under the influence of the PNC. It is necessary and appropriate to have a re-look at the current biased Keith Lowenfield approach.
The records informing the 1992 procedures are instructive to precedence utilised under the Carter system recommendations. Persons then involved will recall the use of the “horse-trading” approach in which the two major political parties were involved in selecting the Election Day staff, who were then trained to work at each Polling Station. The system was easily arrived at where one will have the Presiding Officer and the other will have the Polling Clerk and all the other staff members were employed the same way.
From 1992 until 2011, GECOM staff were employed in keeping with the Representation of the People Act. The Act clearly states that all employment at GECOM must be done by the Commission. However, in 2015 GECOM Secretariat led by Lowenfield rendered on to itself a power to act as he pleased, and later attempted to hold on to the remnants afforded by the disavowed Granger to unilaterally appoint James Patterson. Notably, the new Chairwoman was cautious and he took full advantage.
The nation must not forget the Lowenfield report to the Commission on Wednesday 15th of May 2015. He informed that he cannot announce the elections results because there were fake Statements of Polls in keeping with the PNC’s ploy to disrupt the elections. The election petition in 2015 is yet to see the light of day although the vote counts from thirty-nine polling places on the East Coast of Demerara and three Polling Stations in Berbice were excluded from the final results.
The now-famous broad-sheet which was the instrument used to rig the elections in 2015 was attempted again in 2020 by corrupt and dishonest staff who did the dirty work. Today we must do away with all the criminals and get a truly independent, accountable, and transparent GECOM.