…but efforts must be made to restore confidence in agency
Local Government Elections (LGE) are due next year, and while the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and other stakeholders want the elections held, confidence has to be restored in the agency after the blows it took to its credibility this year.
This was according to GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj, in an interview with this publication. Gunraj laid bare the damage that was done to GECOM’s credibility during the election controversy, when concerted efforts were made to undermine the electoral process.
“I believe that everyone, all the stakeholders, want Local Government Elections. GECOM wants to hold Local Government Elections, but all steps must be taken to ensure that stakeholder confidence in the process is at an acceptable, if not optimal, level,” Gunraj explained.
“And electors, contesting parties, voluntary groups who are hoping to contest those elections, must not feel that the system is compromised. And at the end of the day, what the elections must reveal is the true will of the people. And I believe it behooves us as members of the commission to take all steps to ensure every single system is put in place to ensure that happens.”
According to Gunraj, elections are much more than just setting up a polling station or tent and setting a date for persons to cast their ballots. He reminded that elections are a long and arduous process.
“It’s a process that has many stops along the way. And in that regard, GECOM has two primary functions. The first is registration and the second is holding of elections. Each of these primary functions have various subsets,” he further explained.
The Commissioner recalled the many delays that followed the December 2018 No Confidence Motion, when house-to-house registration was started by virtue of an order from the illegally appointed former GECOM Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson.
That exercise was then challenged in the High Court, which found that house-to-house registration could not remove persons from the list due to non-residency. By then, Patterson’s appointment had already been successfully challenged, and the new Chair, retired Justice Claudette Singh, brought the registration to an end in order to ensure General and Regional Elections could be held.
As if that were not enough, GECOM was then consumed in five months of court challenges which either sought to keep A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) in government despite losing the elections, or get them out. It was only on August 2nd, 2020 that President Dr. Irfaan Ali was sworn in as President and the dust was finally settled.
“To ask if GECOM is in a position to hold Local Government Elections, I would say now, as we speak, no. However, with the taking of certain normal steps to put itself in that state of readiness, it’s not impossible,” Gunraj said.
“But what has happened in those five months post elections has revealed the level of corruption that exists in the GECOM machinery. We saw statutory officers of the commission engaged in activities that were clearly meant to undermine the electoral process,” Gunraj added.
Efforts to make contact with GECOM Commissioners on APNU/AFC’s side for a comment on the holding of LGE were futile. However, the party they represent at GECOM have had much to say on the issue.
The now APNU/AFC Opposition has been adamant that LGE should be held next year with the current lot of compromised officials at GECOM still on the job.
Several of them are currently before the courts facing electoral fraud charges in relation to attempts to derail the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.
Govt pledges resources
President Dr Irfaan Ali has meanwhile also spoken of the need for confidence to be restored in GECOM before proceeding with any other elections, especially in light of the events that unfolded in the five months after the March polls, which saw Guyana being embroiled in a political and electoral crisis.
Only last week, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo said that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government wants Local Government Elections (LGE) next year, but first the “criminal-types” within GECOM, who held the country at ransom for some five months after the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, must be removed.
Jagdeo noted that the 2021 Budget will have resources for GECOM – a constitutional agency – to prepare for the Local Government Elections.
“We want to make sure that communities and people have the right to choose their leaders in the local areas, and we’re going to provide resources to prepare for Local Government Elections…,” he contended.
At the last Local Government Elections, the PPP secured 52 of the 80 Local Authority Areas (LAA). (G3)