Govt influencing GECOM to delay preparations for elections – Jagdeo
The Opposition, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) believes that the Government is deliberately influencing the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to delay preparations for the impending general and regional elections.
“We believe what is taking place now in GECOM is that the Government is heavily influencing GECOM not to start the preparations for elections in 90 days … I know that they’ve had some discussions with GECOM on this matter [and] I have notified the international community to this possibility,” Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said at his weekly press briefing on Thursday.
According to Jagdeo, despite the two main stakeholders – Government and the Opposition – publicly saying that an agreement was made to meet GECOM on its readiness for the upcoming polls, there has not been any willingness on the part of the elections body.
In fact, he specifically mentioned the behaviour of Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield in the absence of GECOM’s Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson, who is currently out on extended sick leave and has been since November last year.
“Imagine, there is a government and the Opposition – they’re the stakeholders – and Mr Lowenfield can’t meet with them, he needs to get the approval of the Chairman. But he had to wait until a GECOM statutory meeting is convened to get that approval. He cannot pick up the phone and call the Chairman and say ‘there has been a request, as part of a joint statement between the President and the Opposition Leader, they want to meet about GECOM’s readiness. Can I meet with them?’ That would have been the simplest thing to do, [but] we have a huge hurdle now,” the Opposition Leader posited.
During last week’s high-level meeting between President David Granger and Jagdeo, the two leaders agreed for their respective Chief Whips – Amna Ally and Gail Teixeira, to meet with the elections body to determine its readiness for the upcoming polls.
However, that meeting with GECOM is yet to be held and according to Jagdeo, the Opposition is getting impatient.
“… we have to, at some point in time, decide whether we want to pursue this charade or just withdraw from it totally because somehow, the Government is using all of these things – our willingness to engage and to be helpful and to reach out – to use it to maybe further delay these elections and the readiness of GECOM,” Jagdeo stated.
While the Opposition has been pushing for Government to resign and call elections within 90 days in accordance with the Constitution following the successful passage of the no-confidence motion, Chairman of the Alliance For Change (AFC) – the minority party in the coalition Government – Khemraj Ramjattan on Wednesday insisted that house-to-house registration should be conducted using the budgeted $3 billion so as to sanitise the list of electors.
However, Jagdeo posited that the Opposition had submitted a proposal to cleanse the list within the timeframe set by the Constitution.
“We argued that one element of the list that you can clean up without a house-to-house registration is dead people on the list; simply by getting the records from GRO (General Registrar’s Office), sharing these records with the political parties, publishing the names in the newspapers and then after two weeks there is no objection, you remove those names from the list and remove all the dead people,” he stated.
Previously, Jagdeo had noted that the $3 billion budgeted for the elections body to conduct fresh registration could be redirected towards the actual hosting of national elections and if more money was needed, then they could always go to the National Assembly for supplementary funds.
Moreover, the Opposition Leader said on Thursday that he had pointed out to the Government during last week’s meeting that the timelines have “changed radically” since monies were approved for fresh registration to be held this year.
“At that time in December last year when the Parliament passed the budget for the house-to-house registration, the no-confidence motion had not been passed and a deadline of 90 days imposed on us. So now, it is impossible to go back to a house-to-house registration which could take between six to nine months. Clearly, that is out of the window, absolutely out of the window,” Jagdeo asserted.
Since the December 21, 2018 passage of the no-confidence motion, several political commentators and stakeholders, including the Opposition, have been calling on the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)/AFC Government to resign and call elections, which according to Article 106 (7) should be held within three months.
This means elections should be held by March 19 this year and according to the Opposition, the coalition Government will become unconstitutional after that time if elections are not held.
Government has said it is awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings filed on the no-confidence resolution as well as the readiness of GECOM before calling elections.
The High Court has been asked to pronounce on two matters regarding the resolution – one contesting the validity of former Member of Parliament Charrandas Persaud’s vote in favour of the Opposition’s motion given his dual citizenship and another challenging the 33-32 votes, instead of a 34 majority, that was used to pass the motion.
Those cases came up for hearing on Tuesday and acting Chief Justice Roxane George has committed to a ruling by the end of this month.