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Pro-coalition election commissioners appear softer on house-to-house registration

Pro-coalition elections commissioners Desmond Trotman, Vincent Alexander and Charles Corbin.

Pro-coalition election commissioners on Wednesday afternoon emerged from a three-hour meeting, gagged by their new Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, and seemingly softer on their demand for house-to-house registration.

Charles Corbin told reporters that he and colleague commissioners Vincent Alexander and Desmond Trotman responded to Justice Singh’s questions and “any further comment on these discussions could only be made by the Chairman herself.”

Alexander would only say that “everything was discussed” at the “cordial meeting” when asked whether the now 11-day old house-to-house registration exercise was among the issues discussed. Quizzed on whether he still supported the need for house-to-house registration he responded, “If I still support the need for house-to-house registration? At this time, yes.”

Further questioned on whether his position was likely to change, Alexander said “my view is that there should be sanitisation of the list; sanitation of the National Register of Registrants for the provision of a list that can provide credible elections; that is not likely to change.”

Alexander said house-to-house registration was “so far the method which is on the table”.

The commissioners were also asked whether they preferred to hold on to their position on house-to-house registration if the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) does not agree to extend the life of the parliament by September 18 or if they are willing to consider having a claims and objections period to sanitise the existing register.

“The issue of sanitisation of the list is not a matter in question. At the moment, whenever the issues reach the table, the commissioners will look at all the factors at that point in time and determine what is the best way forward. At the moment, that matter is in progress, being executed, and at the time when we are faced with making a decision, all the factors will be taken into consideration at that time…The Chairman will make a determination of that,” he said.

GECOM Chairperson Claudette Singh flanked by (left to right) PPP-aligned election commissioners Robeson Benn, Bibi Shadick, and Sase Gunraj and pro-coalition commissioners Charles Corbin, Vincent Alexander and Desmond Trotman.

Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire is already on record as saying that “the consequential orders of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) indicate that elections be held by September 18, 2019, or such longer period as the National Assembly determines.” Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield has also said the now expired voters list could be refreshed through a claims and objections period and then used to conduct free and fair elections.

The High Court is yet to decide on whether to grant an order to stop the house-to-house registration because it would collide with the decisions by the CCJ in declaring that the no-confidence motion was validly passed. The regional appeal court did not set a date for Guyanese to go to the polls, saying that those were the constitutional preserve of the President, Opposition Leader, Parliament and to some extent GECOM.

Corbin reminded that house-to-house registration had been unanimously agreed to by the seven-commission as “the best method” for sanitising the list.

Corbin said the issue now was whether GECOM should proceed with that exercise in light of the passage of the no-confidence motion last year December. He explained that the elections management authority, under the chairmanship of Dr. Steve Surujbally, had decided to proceed with its work programme because of the protracted issues surrounding that motion.

Several legal challenges and appeals all the way up to the CCJ were filed.

President David Granger has said the neither he nor the High Court could instruct GECOM when elections should be held.

He and his governing A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition have sought to justify the need for house-to-house registration on the basis that the voters’ list is bloated by about 200,000 names, has other defects and that thousands of youths would be disenfranchised.

The PPP election commissioners—Bibi Shadick, Robeson Benn and Sase Gunraj—earlier Wednesday told the GECOM Chairperson that they want elections to be held within the constitutional deadline with a claims and objections period instead of a new list to be generated by house-to-house registration.