All Guyanese are hoping for free, fair and transparent elections come March 2; however, developments during the preparatory period have raised, and continue to raise, concerns over the delivery of exemplary elections. The latest of these developments is the reduction of polling stations apparently in areas considered to be strongholds of the Opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC). From what is in the public domain, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has now abandoned the use of private residences as polling stations.
This development will undoubtedly lead to serious logistical challenges in terms of greatly increased numbers of voters being facilitated at fewer polling places. More people turning up to vote, with less polling stations being available to facilitate the exercise of their franchise sums up the potential logistical nightmare that stands to present itself come March 02.
Persons who in 2015 voted at a particular polling station within reasonable proximity to where they reside will now have to travel long distances — in some cases, to areas that are traditionally hostile to supporters of the PPPC — to cast a ballot. This new development can invoke fear in persons, and potentially deter voters from voting.
These apprehensions are in addition to the frustration that would likely surface, especially since people stand to spend a longer time in queues. It begs the question as to what could be the real reason behind this decision to reduce the number of polling stations.
What makes the motive of this decision seemingly sinister is that the reduction of polling stations alluded to is taking place only in areas that are strongholds of the PPPC. That could suggest a deliberate attempt at trying to frustrate PPPC supporters in the affected areas, and could be seen as a calculated move to deter them from voting. Already, many have voiced disapproval over this move by GECOM, with some stakeholders calling for a reversal of this decision, given that it places voters in those areas at a disadvantage.
It is not the first instance of decisions being made by GECOM — especially by its Secretariat — appearing to be advantageous to the APNU/AFC coalition. The house-to-house (HTH) registration process, which began with the approval of Justice Patterson days before he resigned, went ahead despite being deemed illegal. The manner in which it unfolded, and the seeming determination of the Secretariat to have it implemented, gave the impression of intent to not have all included in the process. Eventually, it was halted by a ruling of the court.
There were other instances when the Secretariat had sought to implement mechanisms that were deemed advantageous to the APNU/AFC coalition. The concerns over these particular elections are therefore not unfounded, given how related they may be to what had obtained in the past.
Many believe that, in retrospect, these concerns may have been birthed when President David Granger unilaterally and unconstitutionally appointed Justice Patterson as Chairman of GECOM. Many felt that appointment was part of an allegedly calculated ploy to rig the constitutionally due general elections that would have followed 2015. Despite opposition to Patterson’s appointment, the President was unmoved, and it took a ruling from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to quash that appointment. However, that did not deter the APNU/AFC coalition government from engaging in tactics that seemed deliberately intended to subvert the Constitution and the will of the Guyanese people.
These are apparently now being manifested through the reduction of polling stations in areas that are strongholds of the PPPC.
In the end, these developments have serious potential to negatively impact the integrity of the crucial March 02 elections. In the interest of fairness and credibility, no voter must be placed at a disadvantage.
As such, GECOM would need to revisit its decision to reduce the number of polling stations, just as it needs to revisit its decision to use tents for the purpose of voting. The integrity of these elections must not be compromised.