Stakeholders have obligation to recommend amendments for electoral law

The laws relating to the functioning of GECOM must be amended to avoid a repeat of the 2020 rigging fiasco. Proposed changes have been put forward by the Government for wide consultation. We must hope that every interested stakeholder, including individuals, would avail themselves of this opportunity; it is our obligation.

The brazen attempt to rig the results of the 2020 general and regional elections threatened Guyana’s democracy, and were it not for the vigilance of the PPP, other civic groups and individual Guyanese, with the indispensable support of our friends from Caricom and the ABCE Diplomatic Corps, the GECOM rigging machinery would have succeeded in abrogating the will of the Guyanese people. Whereas Burnham’s PNC was voted for by dead people and phantoms, and also packed ballot boxes with fake ballots, the rigging machinery for the 2020 elections attempted to change the numbers recorded on the Statements of Poll. Whereas Burnham’s PNC did the stuffing of ballot boxes and counting of fake votes in the secured environment of the military headquarters: away from inquiring eyes; away from public streaming for the whole world to see; away from observers; the motley rigging crew at GECOM in 2020 attempted the clumsy tampering of SoP numbers in full view of the public.

The elections laws must be amended in such a way as to ensure that GECOM’s staff cannot easily mess with the conduct of elections, including all processes leading up to elections, Election Day activities, the counting and declaration of votes post-voting, etc. The fact is that the Chief Elections Officer, his deputy and other senior staff members are now facing serious electoral fraud charges before the judiciary.

Guyana entered the Guinness Book of World Record as the country that took the longest time, not to count the vote, but to declare the results. The fact is that there had to be a recount, and then, even after the recount, the Chief Elections Officer tried to discount the recount.

Changes must be made to the laws relating to the functioning of GECOM, so that these brazen attempts to change results and other brazen attempts to mess with electoral processes become near impossible, and should persons be so stupid as to try to mess with elections, they must face dire consequences, like life-imprisonment. The Government has proposed amendments in the electoral laws pertaining to GECOM. Both the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and the Attorney General have stated that the proposed changes in the Representation of the People’s Act (ROPA) are now available for the widest possible input by Guyanese citizens, political parties, civic organisations and international stakeholders.

Ralph Ramkarran expressed concerns that the proposed amendments have not gone far enough. But Mr. Ramkarran is addressing the need for further electoral changes in terms of seats and specific constituency representation. That is not the purpose of the amendments the Government is seeking to make at this time. Electoral changes to designate specific constituency boundaries will not happen soon enough for the 2025 elections. The lengthy time it would take for agreeing to boundary lines for constituencies is a long-term project. It cannot be linked to the GECOM changes that are necessary right now. Changes in how GECOM functions must be the priority.

A handful of Opposition officials are alleging that some of the proposed amendments seek to change seats. There is nothing in the proposed amendments that remotely discusses the total number of seats in Parliament, or the distribution of the 65 seats among national or geographical seats. There will still be 65 seats, still 40 national and 25 geographic seats, with Region 4 still assigned 7 geographic seats. The amendments proposed simply include how Region 4 voting is conducted, and how Region 4 votes are reported. Instead of one returning officer, the proposals recommend four returning officers responsible for the smooth conduct of elections, and for declaring the results. In the end, the four sub-districts will still need to be added up to have a Region 4 vote. Seats will be Region 4 seats, not specifically designated for East Coast Demerara, East Bank Demerara, South Georgetown, and North Georgetown.

In terms of wide consultation, that is the purpose for publicly publishing the proposed amendments, for inviting different groups and individuals to study the amendments and make recommendations for changes. When Khemraj Ramjattan rants about lack of consultation while at the same time rejects an invitation to consult on the changes, he is being dishonest. When Joe Harmon insists that they will do their consultation internally, it is his right, but the Guyanese people still need to know what changes they want, which changes they will support. ANUG’s Timothy Jonas is correct that consultation must start somewhere. The Government has put forward a set of amendments it sees fit. It is now for other stakeholders to recommend changes to these proposals, including addition.

Whatever happens, the amendments must be made rapidly. Guyana cannot afford to have a rigging machinery enshrined in GECOM. The present ROPA was exploited by a group of persons for the purpose of rigging Guyana’s elections. They came within a whisper of succeeding. The amendments are an imperative to ensure that the 2020 nightmare does not repeat itself in 2025 or any time ever.