Jagdeo to write Top Cop, Army Chief on state of security readiness
With the March 2 General and Regional Elections just three days away, the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) is raising questions about the readiness of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) to ensure that the elections are conducted in a safe and secure environment.
PPP/C’s General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, at his weekly press briefing on Thursday, said that the Party has been meeting with the overseas observer missions and urging them to engage the Police and Army chiefs to gauge their level of preparedness.
“I pointed out to the observers when there is fear about the readiness of the security forces to maintain law and order and protect the polling places, that they (the observers) too have an obligation to secure assurances from the leadership of both the Army and Police,” Jagdeo said.
Jagdeo noted that he would have had similar experiences when he headed an observer mission to Sri Lanka back in 2015. According to Jagdeo, he would have engaged the security heads to ensure that they are ready to guarantee the safety of the polling stations as well as the electorate.
The Opposition Leader reported that they have been hearing a lot of stories of electoral interference from senior Government functionaries. He stated that these instances have been related to the observers and because of those reports, knowledge of the readiness of the security forces is important.
In relation to the Police Force and maintaining order at the polling places, Jagdeo said that the party is in receipt of reports which suggest that former police officers with influence are seeking to influence/intimidate the other ranks.
“We want assurances that they are in a state of readiness…I have heard issues of vehicles not being ready, the training is not done properly, that they are not going to use Rural Constables and they going to only use Police. If that decision is taken then there has to be adequate number of Police for each polling place and not assign one Police to 3 or 4 polling places. That would compromise safety and security,” Jagdeo said.
The former President said that his party is not going to be telling the security forces where they should be but noted that they have to provide the assurance that they are ready to take on the challenge of providing adequate protection to the polling places.
Jagdeo said that the Party would also be writing to heads of the Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force to get the assurance that they are ready and would be addressing every aspect of Election Day security.
SoP security and integrity
The PPP/C leadership has been meeting with all of the observer missions and would have raised the issue of security and integrity of the Statements of Poll (SoP). The issue was also raised with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) when they met on Tuesday.
The Opposition Leader noted that they would have informed GECOM and the observer missions that Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield should document all communication with the Presiding Officers (PO) on E-Day. This, he said, would provide clear guidance to the PO so there would be no misinterpretation of the directions given. He went on to say that the PPP/C would have also suggested that Lowenfield share that information with polling day staff and the various political parties.
“Up to recently, we have had on D-Day that is during the Discipline Services voting, we had some Presiding Officers saying that PPP cannot affix their seal on the envelopes. It (affixing the Party’s seal) is provided for in the law and yet some of them are saying this (that we can’t). We want this in black and white. We want to say here the things that people are allowed to do…polling agents for parties can place their seal on the box and the envelope including the ones that contain the Statement of Poll,” he said.
Jagdeo explained that they are also advocating for a fixed time to be scheduled when the Returning Officer (RO) would do the verification of the SoPs and recounting the ballots. He noted that in the past, the RO would call up the political parties or vice versa when it was time to verify. However, he stated that the method allowed for there to be discrepancies since the RO could have started before the parties got to the centre.
Ballots floating around
The PPP/C said they have found a number of issues with the packing of the ballot papers. Jagdeo identified Region One (Barima-Waini) as one of the possible places where the possibility of short ballots exists.
He explained that the Region One polling officials who are coming from outside of the villages they are stationed in, would have certificates of employment so that they can vote in the area they are working. If those officials have their certificates and GECOM packs exact ballots for that area, based on the Official List of Electors (OLE), then those officials would be disenfranchised. However, he noted that the issue can be resolved.
Jagdeo said that the PPP/C would be paying keen attention to the logistics to ensure that everyone gets to vote.