The Chair of GECOM, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, held her first press conference and focused on the state of readiness of the voters’ list for the general elections which are due on March 2, 2020 –less than four months away. For a country with only ¾ of a million citizens, the comments exposed severe weaknesses in the registration system in which a process of “continuous registration” was initiated since 2001 and supplemented in 2005. This was supposed to produce an Official List of Electors (OLE) such that general elections could be held within three months of an announcement, as mandated by the Constitution. The system provided for citizens who reached 14 years of age to be added to the created Registrants (NRR) and for those who died to be removed.
In 2008, a House-to-House Registration exercise was conducted to update the NRR from which the Preliminary List of Electors (PLE), comprising all registrants eighteen years and over, was extracted. Following the procedures, the PLE was subjected to a Claims (to add names) and Objections (to remove names) process to finally produce the OLE. There were several subsequent C&O cycles. In 2015, the Local Government Elections (LGE) was held with no objections by any of the participating parties with the OLE containing 570,708 names.
But President Granger, under pressure from the NCM constitutional requirement, upheld by the CCJ on June 18 that elections must be held within three months, claimed that the list was “bloated by 200,000 names”. The GECOM CEO, in charge of the responsible Secretariat, declared that he was unaware of that figure and elections could be held with the then extant list. But pursuant to a secret decision by the illegally appointed GECOM James Patterson, GECOM Secretariat yet decided to conduct House-to-House Registration from July 20 in order to “sanitise” the list.
And it is this exercise, clearly intended to address Granger’s delaying ploy, which opened the can of worms still roiling the political climate. The H2H exercise was halted by the new GECOM Chair with 370,000 names collected in the absence of PPP scrutineers after the Court decided that a new NRR would unconstitutionally remove registrants via an implicit residence requirement. Rather than dumping those names, the new Chair decided to code and compare them with the NRR names in two tranches.
The first tranche of 179,000 names produced 29,000 unmatched names. These putatively “new additions” were posted at Registration Centres to be “scrutinised”. If the second tranche of 191,000 names produces a comparable metric, another 31,000 names would be added and the list would now be increased to 630,000 names before the C&O data are factored in. The PNC has been unable to identify their claimed 200,000 “bloating”. However, there has been no decision by GECOM on these “new” names and their fate hangs like the Sword of Damocles, over the hope of credible elections.
Another spanner was thrown into the works with the announcement of “uncollected ID cards”, boiling down to some 19,000 persons registered since 2008. The GECOM Chair decided to circulate these names in yesterday’s national newspapers in addition to sending notices to the recorded addresses. The registrants were informed to show up at GECOM registration offices to be “verify” their existence by producing passports or birth certificates. Addressing fears that these persons disenfranchised, she announced that the names of those who did not uplift their IDs by December 2 would be extracted from the OLE and listed in a supplementary addendum. If these persons attempt to vote, they will be required to produce other forms of ID such as passports.
While the Chair’s decisions may appear to be reasonable measures to facilitate a “cleaner list” to address caretaker President Granger’s “bloating” claims, there are valid fears they may become grounds for challenging the results of the general elections, as was the case with the Parliamentary agreement to used ID cards in the 1997 elections.
The OLE must be fixed to constitutional satisfaction.