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President pledges cash, “sufficient time” for GECOM to hold “credible elections”

FLASHBACK: Retired Justice James Patterson receiving his instrument of appointment as the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission from President David Granger.

President David Granger has told the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to begin preparations for the holding of general elections and that government would find the money to run off the polls.

In response to GECOM Chairman, James Patterson’s letter about the recent decisions by the seven-member elections body, the President said, “the government of Guyana is committed to doing everything possible to ensure that the Commission is provided with the financial resources and have sufficient time to conduct credible elections”.

Disclosure of the President’s correspondence to the GECOM Chairman came hours after Business Minister, Dominic Gaskin hinted at at an oil and gas forum in Houston, Texas, that elections are likely to be held later this year.

Unofficial estimates are that GECOM needs at least GYD$2.2 billion to train polling day staff, hire transportation, and print ballots overseas, and buy indelible ink and stamps.

The Guyanese leader urged GECOM to begin preparations for the polls, stemming from the passage of the no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018 by a vote of 33 to 32 by the 65-seat National Assembly. “I urge the Commission, therefore, to commence preparations for the conduct of general and regional elections. The government will initiate measures to provide the funds required and to seek the approval of the National Assembly and to ensure that an agreement can be reached, given both constitutional requirements and GECOM’s capabilities,” the President told the GECOM Chairman.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has so far maintained that his People’s Progressive Party (PPP) would not be returning to the National Assembly to extend the 90-day deadline by which general elections are stipulated to be held. The PPP and its three elections commissioners have accused GECOM and the government of conspiring to fritter away the 90 days instead of beginning preparations for the polls from December 22, 2018.

The seven-member elections commission, meanwhile, on Tuesday discussed three time-frames within which general elections could be held. They are June 2019 with the current voters’ list which would have to be refreshed in a claims and objections period after it expires on April 30, 2019 or a combination of claims and objections and continuous registration.

With GECOM appeared set to conduct house-to-house registration before going to the polls, that timeline puts general elections at December. However, governing coalition-backed elections commissioner Vincent Alexander has said he believes that house-to-house registration can be done in six rather than nine months.

The Commission last week voted by majority that the elections could not be held by March 19 – that is within the 90-day time frame after the passage of the no-confidence motion.

The State has since appealed a High Court decision that the no-confidence motion was validly passed by an absolute majority, although then government parliamentarian, Charrandass Persaud, who voted for the motion is a Guyanese-Canadian and he did not inform the House Speaker of his intention to vote contrary to the list of candidates from which he had been drawn.