The history of modern elections laws in Guyana is a history of either facilitating the PNC to take power or attempting to prevent them from rigging elections to keep power. It started with the British changing the Representation of the People’s Act (ROPA) in 1964 from the “First-Past-the -Post” (FPTP) constituency system to “Proportional Representation” (PR), to remove the PPP and install the PNC. It was the only use of PR in the British Empire – including in Britain.
The next change came in 1967 as Burnham prepared to rig the 1968 elections, as revealed in the declassified US Department of State documents. He created a National Register of Registrants (NRR) while denying it would be used to create the Official List of Electors (OLE), which is exactly what occurred. The NRR bloated the age of numerous African Guyanese youths in the expectation they would vote PNC. They also introduced “overseas voting”, controlled by their embassy personnel. In this fashion, the PNC “won” the 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985 elections.
Consequently, until 1992, there were no substantive changes in ROPA, save for those reflecting the 1980 constitutional changes, creating an Executive Presidency and a Regional System with a ponderous multilayered structure that also sent Members to the National Assembly. With the US-backed return of “free and fair” elections in 1992, changes which the PPP, other parties in the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy, and citizens in and out of Guyana had agitated for over the decades were finally conceded by the PNC.
We arrived at the present electoral system with ROPA extensively modified to deal with all the stratagems the PNC had deployed over the years to rig the elections in their favour. In addition to abolishing overseas voting, the changes included “counting at the place of poll” and tabulation of “Statements of Poll” from each Region by its Regional Officer (RO) before results were compiled by the CEO and declared by the GECOM Commission. The Constitution was also altered to include a newly constituted Elections Commission and Secretariat that was intended to remove the unilateral appointment of the very powerful Chairman by the Government.
Voted out of office for 23 years, the PNC-as-APNU was returned to office in coalition with the AFC in an eerie reenactment of 1964. Unfortunately, they also attempted to reprise their 1968 elections rigging to remain in power, when it was evident they had lost the elections after SOPs from 9 Regions had been tabulated. The sordid tale of spreadsheets and bedsheets used by the Reg 4 RO to manipulate the votes of the people, and the cynical use of the tainted data by the CEO to compile his report to the Commission are now before the Courts.
After the world-record five months to declare a result of the March 2, 2020 Elections’ results, President Irfaan Ali promised that ROPA would be modified to prevent a recurrence of the foiled rigging attempt. The Government has just submitted a draft of the proposed changes, and citizens have six weeks – just before Christmas – to scrutinise the draft and suggest any changes they feel are necessary to ensure elections’ results that reflect the inalienable right to choose their Government.
The suggested changes pretty much attempt to prevent an exact recurrence of the last rigging attempt through plugging gaps exploited by the PNC and imposing very severe penalties, such as heavy fines and extended jail time. They start with the activities at the Polling Places by being more expansive in the information to be shared by the elections officials, agents of the political parties, and observers, so as to minimise claims such as those made by the PNC that dead and non-residents had voted. The problem with these proposals is that at the end of polls on March 2 2020, the PNC officials all declared that they were satisfied with the conduct of the elections, but subsequently backflipped. Against their history, no matter what the safeguards, the PNC will still claim “anomalies”. And, as their General Secretary Amna Ally insisted last year, even a single anomaly would vitiate the entire elections.
The changes to ensure that the CEO and RO also perform their jobs impartially – even with a life sentence hanging over the former’s head – will not deter skullduggery, unless men of impeccable character are chosen.
But try we must.