The seven-member Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is embroiled in fresh controversy over the timeframe for holding general elections, with the opposition party-appointed commissioners denying that voting was underway on house-to-house registration and the ruling APNU+AFC-backed commissioners stating that the motion was passed.
The three opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) elections commissioners – Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Robeson Benn – walked out of a meeting on Thursday because “There was no vote in progress when we left that meeting,” Gunraj told Demerara Waves Online News. Maintaining that himself, Shadick and Benn said they were not going to participate in the discussions, Gunraj said they walked out.
Gunraj said there were no discussions at Thursday’s meeting about how much money GECOM would need to conduct General and Regional Elections. This latest imbroglio came one day after President David Granger wrote GECOM asking that body for its work programme and how much money was needed to hold elections.
The ruling coalition commissioners – Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman – said GECOM would now inform President David Granger that by a majority of the three of them, they voted to proceed with house-to-house registration.
Describing Thursday’s meeting as a “farce”, PPP elections commissioner, Benn said the Commission had been discussing his side’s plan to hold general elections by April 30, instead of March 21, when Alexander intervened and said the elections could not be held without considering house-to-house registration.
At the juncture when they were discussing a motion for the budget of elections in the shortest possible time, Benn said GECOM Chairman James Patterson and the three coalition commissioners, supported Alexander’s motion and wanted a vote that elections be held after house-to-house registration. “We have decided that we… will not sit there, violate the constitution and be open to charges and actions in the courts with respect to violating the constitution, a constitution which we have sworn to uphold,” Benn said.
Benn said a motion in favour of house-to-house registration to create a credible list of electors was moved, seconded and put to the vote. “During the process of the vote, when three commissioners indicated that they vote in favour, the other Commissioners led by Commissioner Shadick said that she will not be here and vote on any question and at that point that commenced the process of a walkout… after we had signaled that we were in the process of executing the vote,” he said.
Benn claimed that the coalition commissioners “abstained from voting” while the vote was in progress to proceed to the election with a voters’ list based on house-to-house registration. Colleague coalition commissioner Trotman added that “at the time when they left three persons had already voted” so their absence amounted to abstention.
Trotman and Corbin said Shadick stated “I shall not be voting on this question”.
The PPP had wanted general elections to be held by March 21, 2019 – within 90 days of the National Assembly’s-approved no-confidence motion – and after that date became elusive, that party called for the polls to be held by April 30 when the existing voters’ list expires.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has refused to agree to extending the life of the National Assembly beyond March 21 unless President Granger names an election date.
Out of a population of almost 750,000 persons, the voters’ list has 633,156 names.