…GECOM Chair assures polls before end of year – Joe Hamilton
Following a meeting with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has assured that the upcoming General and Regional Elections will be held long before the end of the year.
His comment comes after it was revealed last week that the Commission is considering a proposal for elections to be held in March 2020, which would be one year after constitutionally mandated elections ought to have been held given the December 2018 passage of the No-Confidence Motion against the coalition Government.
However, Jagdeo told reporters following his meeting with the Commission on Tuesday that the timeline, “…is clearly out the window now. We don’t even need to debate that. This March [timeline] is totally out the window. We’re looking for elections before the end of the year”.
Jagdeo told reporters that during the engagement, he reminded GECOM of its responsibility to hold elections, citing that President David Granger has been using its preparedness “as an excuse” to delay the hosting of early polls.
Furthermore, the Opposition Leader said he went through the various processes that the Commission is considering including the merging of data collected during the now-scrapped House-to-House Registration exercise with the existing National Register of Registrants (NRR) database. He noted that it was pointed out to the Commission that there is a much simpler way of adding new registrants to the NRR.
“So we said they should make a decision to start the process by extracting a PLE (Preliminary List of Electors) from the NRR and go to Claims and Objections. We believe the elections can be held long before the end of the year and so we made a case for that,” Jagdeo contended.
According to the Opposition Leader, there were some encouraging signs and statements made during the meeting and they are now awaiting the deliberations by the Elections Commission.
“The Chairman said some encouraging words at the end of the meeting… encouraging words because it has an outside limit to this whole ordeal that we’re going through,” Jagdeo related without going into more details.
At Tuesday’s meeting, which the Opposition Leader had requested, he was accompanied by former Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Members of Parliament (MP) Anil Nandlall, Juan Edghill, Zulfikar Mustapha and Joseph Hamilton.
However, Hamilton revealing that the GECOM Chair, Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh, assured polls before 2020.
“Importantly, at the end of the summing up everything that transpired, the Chair indicated that she has taken everything into consideration presented by the Leader of the Opposition and his team and indicated further that she, as Chair, and the Commission [are] working together towards a timeline, having elections long before the end of the year,” he stated.
Against, this backdrop the Opposition parliamentarian posited that he was surprised when GECOM issued a statement shortly after the meeting, defending a 55-day gap between Nominations Day and Elections Day.
In the missive, the Elections Commission said the lengthy gap is justifiable, adding that it was done to facilitate certain activities such overseas ballot printing and then the subsequent distribution of ballot papers to foreign officers posted overseas.
“The law is clear that Nominations Day should be no later than 32 days before elections day. Therefore, any time before that amount of days, even if it’s 55 days, is acceptable and in conformity with the laws of Guyana,” the missive from GECOM’s Public Relations Office stated.
However, Opposition-nominated Commissioner, Sase Gunraj contended that GECOM’s Operations Sub-Committee, which he co-chairs with Government-nominated Commissioner Charles Corbin, agreed that all statutory timelines, catered for by the law, would not be breached.
“…the content of that press release is inaccurate and is misrepresenting the discussions of the Commission,” he asserted.
Gunraj went on to say that “every single other activity between the holding of Nominations Day and Elections Day, we decided as late as Friday last, we will make efforts to have that time reduced in an effort to hold elections in a timely manner. This press release today suggests that everything else is set in stone and the only thing that will be adjusted are those statutory timelines. I want to reject the contents of that press release. The only thing that we agreed to in the Commission was to maintain the statutory timelines.”
In fact, the GECOM Commissioner posited that in keeping with maintaining those timelines, they had even agreed to engage the suppliers to reduce the times usually taken to supply, for example printed materials, so as to fast track the holding of polls.
Meanwhile, in a statement later on Tuesday, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Opposition said that the Elections Secretariat seems to be operating separately from the Commission, adding that this recent incident just highlights the lengths which it will go to justify delaying the upcoming elections.
“The PPP is of the view that the ‘rogue’ GECOM Secretariat cannot be allowed to undermine the process that would allow for constitutional compliance and adherence to the rulings and orders of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)… The ‘runaway’ Secretariat continues to invent reasons for lengthy timelines (for which it has been called out by the local media corps) that were included in its notorious election activities plan that envisages elections being held until March 2020 – a full year past the constitutionally mandated deadline,” the missive from the party outlined.
According to the Opposition, it appears as though elements at the Secretariat were not pleased with the outcome of the meeting during which “positive signals” were sent on the timeline for elections.
However, even as the Opposition is confident of polls before the end of this year, Government-nominated Commissioner at GECOM, Vincent Alexander, told reporters after the Commission’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon that he would not be supporting any reviews to the Secretariat’s March 2020 timeline.
“In the Secretariat’s timeline, there is no wriggle room… I’m not supporting the review, I’ll participate in the discussions because I rationalised why I’m not supporting it,” Alexander asserted.