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Political parties positioning for GECOM Chairmanship ahead of “serious” 2020 general elections

Outgoing Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Dr. Steve Surujbally

Guyana’s two major parties are seeking to install someone of their choice Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) ahead of “historic” general elections in 2020, outgoing Chairman of the country’s elections management authority, Dr. Steve Surujbally said Tuesday.

Surujbally, who had since August 2016 told President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo that he was preparing to leave the job after 15 years, said there is a major reason why the appointment of his successor was taking so long.

“That alone- there is a message in there why we are staying so long to do it. The message, to my mind, elections that are coming up in 2020 or whenever, it would be so serious and what results come out of that is of such great gravitas that people are positioning themselves and taking a long time. They want, I would think, their Chairman,” he told a news conference.

When general elections are next held, it would be the first time in more than 40 years that the People’s National Congress Reform, in partnership with other parties, would be contesting elections as the incumbent. The PNCR had been accused of rigging elections to remain in power for 28 years until 1992 when it was defeated by the now opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC).

Against the background of discontent with economic and political management of Guyana by the APNU+AFC coalition, the electorate would most likely be asked to choose between re-electing the incumbent or returning the PPPC to power despite widespread allegations of corruption, rampant crime and death squads. If the PPPC returns to power in 2020, it would be doing so in time for commercial oil production by ExxonMobil.

Surujbally leaves office on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 in the midst of a controversy between President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo over whether a GECOM Chairman should be preferably a judge, retired judge or someone eligible to be judge.  Granger insists that the list of six names submitted by Jagdeo does not meet that criterion. Granger has already denied that he has someone, possibly a female retired judge, lined up to be appointed GECOM Chairman.

Surujbally fretted that it has taken so long to appoint a replacement. “Now that we have a position that it is becoming more and more difficult to find my successor- you see what has evolved…People have dug their heels in…so lots of things have changed. There are people who hardened in their positions,” he said.

The outgoing Chairman is worried that efforts to resolve the dispute over the constitutional interpretation have been deemed “futile”. That was the PPP’s Anil Nandlall’s description of the outcome of talks with Attorney General, Basil Williams on Monday.

Meanwhile, Surujbally reiterated that the 2015 general elections were not rigged but were “damn” close and if anyone wanted to rig, he or she would have stolen 40,000 votes instead of 4,000. “I asked continuously for the evidence and to this date I have received nothing that would point me in a direction that in a certain area, a certain set of people… because I would unleash the police and stick with them because it is our livelihood that you are dealing with,” he said.

An elections petition by the PPP is pending in the High Court.