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Time running out for local gov’t polls this year

Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud

The timeframe for local government elections this year is dwindling with the opposition adopting an obstructionist posture, according to Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud.

Four pieces of legislation are currently in a parliamentary Special Select Committee where they were sent after a bipartisan task force failed to agree on the reforms after several years.

Persaud said they had made some progress on all four pieces of legislation but according to him, the opposition was erecting new hurdles with the APNU reintroducing issues that were dismissed by the task force.

“Proposals that were found to be unacceptable at the level of the task force are being reintroduced now at the level of the Select Committee, the reason being just might I think because there are more members at the Select Committee who are representative of the combined opposition than they are representatives of the government.”

The minister said the government believed it was a deliberate attempt to foster conflict in the Select Committee to ensure the local polls were further delayed. A Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) official told Demerara Waves Online News on Monday that they would need at least six months to pull off the elections. According to the official, a significant amount of voter education has to be done both for the electorate and contesting parties since it would be a new system in place.

The new system would be a 50-50 hybrid of proportional representation and first-pass-the-post.

Local government elections were last held in 1994 and it was the PNCR, now the backbone of the APNU, which called for the laws to be reformed before the next poll was held.

Should there be no consensus within the Committee the legislation will be sent to the National Assembly for resolution where the opposition controls the House.

“That doesn’t seem to be something that is forthcoming in the immediate future (consensus). Coupled with the customary time required by the Guyana Elections (Commission) for the holding of elections and us being in the sixth month of the year it is making the holding of local government elections in the year 2013 a much more difficult task,” Persaud said.

The minister also accused the opposition of political interference in GECOM following the announcement by the AFC that it would not support an extension of the contract for Chief Elections Officer Gocool Boodoo. According to Persaud, GECOM was allowing itself to be politically manipulated.

“I don’t know how much such a position would benefit the credibility of the Elections Commission and enhance public confidence in the electoral system and the work of the Guyana Elections Commission if political parties can dictate who they want to be or who they don’t want to be there,” he said.

The PPP’s position, he added, was that the matter of the CEO’s contract should be left to GECOM and its Commissioners.  The AFC at its press conference last week said it would not support an extension for Boodoo because he had failed to gain their confidence in the two elections the party contested.

In the counting of seats won during the 2011 General Election Boodoo had miscalculated giving the PPP/C a majority in the National Assembly. The error was pointed out by an opposition-nominated Commissioner and corrected resulting in the combined opposition’s one seat majority in the House and Guyana’s first minority government.

The matter of Boodoo’s extension is still being reviewed by the elections agency.