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OPINION: New Claims and Objections method: A recipe for confusion and disenfranchisement

By Frantz Bollers

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) will for the first time, come October 1, 2019, embark on a system of self-verification of the names of all persons on the preliminary voters list.

The onus now is on the voter to produce his/her records to GECOM during the claims and objections period that begins on October 1.

Perhaps in the world of Utopia where everyone never moved from his or her districts, except by death or migration, this self-verification system will be the best approach.

Since that is not so, this new system of self-verification places the unique burden of residency on the registrant/intended voter.

Self-verification, unlike the already abridged house-to-house registration exercise, takes no account of the fact that people may be temporarily out of Guyana, an internal migrant worker or student temporarily residing near to his or her educational institution.

This method, therefore, will result in the inability of thousands of persons across all party lines to vote. GECOM is obligated under the Constitution to facilitate the exercise of people’s franchise as far as practicable.

All parties will suffer tremendously, but the incumbent coalition will take the most beating as a result of self-verification. This can be its recipe for defeat or pre- and post-election unrest. There will be a fair percentage of persons who will not go to verify their registration information during the Claims and Objections period for more than one reason including apathy, and temporary absence from their places of residence due to leisure, work, study or travel.

Are their names, consequently, not going to be included in the final voters list also called the Official List of Electors if they do not self-verify their records?

Paint that picture in your mind of an apathetic or disillusioned person, who suddenly becomes interested in the electoral process due to campaigning on the various issues or is persuaded by a friend, family, neighbour or activist to vote at the last hour on polling day, but cannot do so because he or she did not verify his registration records during the claims and objections period.

Surely, this block of persons will feel cheated of their inalienable democratic right to vote. Voting can best be characterised as a social behavioural science similar to economics which can determine people’s wants impulsively or impromptu.

Self-verification will have a soddening and saddening effect on Guyana’s democratic and constitutional rights to vote. It was Her Honour, Chief Justice Roxane George who ruled that names of registrants could not be removed from the National Register of Registrants and those persons can go to the districts in which they were last registered to cast their ballots.

Let us return to the socio-political implications of self-verification by intended voters. It is the considered view that the incumbent coalition led by David Granger already stands a slim chance of winning next year’s general elections because of its lacklustre performance combined with an aggressively relentless opposition. Point to note: the coalition won the 2015 general and regional elections by less than 5,000 votes, a figure largely pushed up by a greater turnout of Afro-Guyanese and Mixed Guyanese from south Georgetown and Linden.

Not so this time around!

The fraction of mostly disgruntled East Indian People’s Progressive Party supporters, who had broken ranks with ‘Dr. Jagan’s’ party have abandoned the Alliance For Change and have returned ‘home’.

Unlike Afro-Guyanese, the East Indo-Guyanese voting block has reconsolidated firmly on the built-in pillars of race, culture and religion bolstered by the retrenchment of thousands of sugar workers. It is on these pillars alone they will make their way to GECOM’s offices to self-verify their registration particulars and turn out solidly to vote for the PPP.

Factor in, too, the Lenox Shuman Liberty and Justice Party which can pick up at least one seat from its core Amerindian base.

Taking all of these into consideration, does the coalition really want to risk self-verification or does it intend to combine that with unconventional methods to secure more votes from a lower turnout of its own supporters compared to 2015?

Optionally, a resort to the court system to challenge this process can take another six months all the way up to the Caribbean Court of Justice. By that time, the intent and effect of the no-confidence motion would have withered away.

Level the playing field for all parties by scrapping self-verification. Give each party the desired leeway to get out last minute voters on polling day.

Every vote counts for all parties.