Verify but do not remove 25,000 registrants – Jagdeo
Uncollected ID cards
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is not against the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) verifying the existence of the 25,000+ registrants who failed to pick up their national identification (ID) cards since 2008 but insisted that these persons should not be removed from the Official List Electors (OLE).
GECOM has indicated that some 25,000 persons could be removed from the OLE if they do not uplift their ID cards, which have been available for over a decade now. GECOM will be publishing the names of these persons in the four national newspapers and set a 21-day period in which they will have to uplift their ID cards.
However, Jagdeo pointed out at his weekly press conference on Thursday that while the Opposition is not against the Elections Commission verifying the existence of these persons, they should not lose their right to vote.
“We don’t have a problem verifying – walking around the country visiting and sending letters etc to verify the existence. But the law and [GECOM Chair Retired Justice Claudette Singh’s] own ruling does not allow any person who doesn’t pick up their ID card, losing their right to vote,” he asserted.
Back in 2001, Justice Singh, a High Court Judge at the time had ruled in the Esther Pereira case that the requirement for voters to have a voter ID card in the 1997 elections was ultra vires Articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution (despite a parliamentary agreement to use the cards). Pereira, a PNC supporter, had petitioned the High Court in 1998 to set aside the results of the 1997 elections.
While Jagdeo remains optimistic that GECOM will not pursue to disenfranchise thousands of persons, he, nevertheless, expressed fear at Thursday’s press conference of People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) – the majority party in the coalition government – setting the stage to bring another elections petitions if they fail at the upcoming polls.
“This matter was debated [at GECOM and] there has been no formal position but I gather that there is a compromise that will ensure enhanced verification but not remove people’s names from the voters’ list. Once it is legal, it cannot be a source of petition. We’re very fearful that…they’re setting the base for petition afterwards, elections petition,” he contended.
Claims and Objections
GECOM is currently in the process of preparing for next year’s March 2 General and Regional Elections. Earlier this week, the elections body wrapped up the 42-day Claims and Objections exercise. It was revealed that as of November 3, 2019, there were 5636 new registrations, 14,474 transfers, 2639 corrections and 2400 ID card replacements, along with 651 photograph updates during the exercise. The Objections leg of the exercise will run until November 11 but so far, over 500 objections were recorded.
According to reports, the majority of these 500 objections were raised in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Essequibo), with a significant number coming from the PPP.
In fact, Jagdeo told reporters on Thursday that he was informed that most of these objections were raised in the Annai and Lethem areas. However, he noted that the Party intends to withdraw these objections.
“Now we will have to go and find the death certificate. So, I think those objections will be withdrawn since these are people who died. So, let GECOM get the death certificates and remove them because there is a hearing for every objection and you have to walk with your evidence…,” he explained.
Meanwhile, GECOM has also published the list of data obtained during the scrapped House-to-House (H2H) Registration for public scrutiny at the various GECOM registration offices.
Persons can check the list of H2H registrants and seek to have changes made at any GECOM office.
It was reported that the GECOM Chair has decided that persons who did not participate in the House-to-House exercise would not be flagged when they go to vote.
At the time, the controversial exercise was conducted from July 20 to August 31, 2019. Many persons boycotted out of concern about the credibility and legality of the exercise.
Despite the passage of the No-Confidence Motion against the coalition government in December 2018, which, according to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), was validly passed and thus, triggering early elections, GECOM went ahead with the H2H Registration.
However, the exercise was carried out with only the ruling party scrutinising the enumerators, as the PPP Opposition was not even invited to participate.
The H2H was then challenged in the High Court and acting Chief Justice Roxane George subsequently ruled GECOM cannot deregister persons from the voters’ list unless they are dead or otherwise disqualified in accordance with the Constitution. This brought an abrupt end to the exercise, which had collected over 300,000 registrations.
The seven-member Elections Commission has been at loggerhead over the merging of the H2H data with the voters’ list.
However, Jagdeo contended at his press conference on Thursday that not only is the data obtained during the exercise unverified, but there is also no clarity given as to how it will be used.
“There’s been instruction as to what to do with the House-to-House data. Everybody was going in to check the PLE (Preliminary List of Electors) and do the Claims and Objections… Even the [GECOM] Commissioners were not told what to do with the House-to-House data. They were just posted up out at the registration centres without any explanation to the Commissioners, to the public, to the staff or no statutory order underpinning their existence and how they can be used…” he pointed out.
The Opposition Leader reiterated that this unverified data should not be used for any merging, otherwise it could contaminate the voters’ list.