Groundwork being laid to strengthen Guyana’s electoral system – AG

…wants life sentence for election riggers

The Dr Irfaan Ali-led Government is keeping true to its promise to ensure that Guyana has free and fair elections given attempts by agents of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) to rig the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall

In this regard, the Attorney General’s Chambers has commenced the groundwork for the strengthening of the country’s electoral system, which will close major loopholes in the process.
This was recently revealed by Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall during an interview on Kaieteur Radio. According to the Attorney General, a small unit has already been set up within the drafting department to gather the requisite pieces of legislation for review.

District Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo

“The world called upon us, Guyana called upon us and we promised that when we got into Government, we would do wide-ranging reforms at the level of the legislation to ensure that we, as far as possible, bridge the gaps, close the loopholes, strengthen the weaknesses, which the miscreants exploited and nearly succeeded in stealing Government,” the AG said during the radio broadcast.
Government will be seeking changes including establishing that Statements of Poll (SoPs) be used as the only basis for the tabulation of results, instead of spreadsheets. The Administration also wants SoPs to be posted online by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and contesting political parties within 24 hours of receiving them.

Life sentence

Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield

The Attorney General pointed out that there are very few offences in Guyana’s laws which speaks to electoral officials and their role in trying to rig the elections. “The law in its current form makes offences in relation to the elector. So, if you attempt to vote twice you commit an offence. If you attempt to impersonate another person you commit an offence.”
However, according to Nandlall, there is not a reciprocal list of offences concerning election officers. “And the election officers are the errant ones, not the electors,” he underscored.
Against this backdrop, he said that the Government will ensure the creation of offences to imprison for life, election officials who attempt to compromise the electoral machinery and process at any stage and that the higher the office the official holds, the greater the penalty to be imposed upon him.
“So, that is a fundamental cornerstone of our agenda in Government. We know because of our track record, because of our performance, because of our competence, we will not lose free and fair elections in Guyana. It is in our interest to protect this democracy. And we know other political parties, because of their track record, because of their incompetence, because of their corruption; they can only win by fraud. We have to strengthen our system to ensure that the fraud does not succeed,” he asserted.

PNCR Chairperson Volda Lawrence

Nandlall explained that these are not constitutional changes, but rather amendments to the electoral laws, such as the Representation of People Act.
Concerning the report that has to be prepared by the Chief Elections Officer, the Attorney General noted that the law must clarify what this report must contain. He added that the language must be clear that no Chief Elections Officer can reasonably or unreasonably prepare a report of his own.
“We must state in the law that invalidity of votes can only be determined at an election petition and no [Chief Elections Officer] or political party can determine whether or not a ballot is invalid, outside of the established spoiled vote.”
Additional biometrics, if possible, will be introduced into the law, he noted, adding that, “We have to clarify and clear up whether if you have a cyclical registration system, if you can stop that registration midway and start a House-to-House Registration.”
Several high-level officials of GECOM and APNU/AFC are facing criminal charges, in what the Government said were attempts to subvert the will of the Guyanese people. The former APNU/AFC Government has also been accused of attempts to undermine democracy.
It was reported that Chief Elections Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Keith Lowenfield reported in his last declaration that the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition garnered 171,825 votes while the PPP/C gained 166,343 votes.
How the CEO arrived at those figures is unknown, since the certified results from the legally conducted recount exercise supervised by GECOM and a high-level team from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) pellucidly showed that the PPP/C won with 233,336 votes while the APNU/AFC garnered 217,920.
The recount exercise also proved that District Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo heavily inflated the figures in Region Four – Guyana’s largest voting District – in favour of the then caretaker coalition regime.
Several other top officials of the elections body were also hauled before the courts including People’s National Congress Chairperson, Volda Lawrence.