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PPP accuses GECOM of attempting to disenfranchise its supporters; calls for international help

PPP Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha.

The opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) on Thursday accused the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) of discriminating against its supporters by reducing the number of private residences that will be used as polling places.

“We consider this latest development as yet another attempt by GECOM to frustrate voters, suppress and hinder voting and create possible confusion on Elections Day,” the PPP said.

The PPP accused Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield of breaking his promise to address the party’s concerns, except in one case.

GECOM’s spokeswoman, Yolanda Ward up to late Thursday night did not respond to a request for reaction to the PPP’s concerns.

Saying it was deeply disturbed at the reduction of polling places especially in PPP strongholds, that party cited instances in Lusignan, Annandale, Mon Repos and Chesney where GECOM has discontinued the use of private residences as polling places.

The PPP called on the technical advisors from the Commonwealth, International Research Institute and Canada, all the election observer teams in Guyana, the diplomatic community and civil society organizations to note its concerns and to join the PPP” in its efforts to ensure that the Guyanese electorate gets a free and fair opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote on March 2, 2020.”

That party also called on GECOM to eschew its current posture and to adopt one which facilitates and encourages smooth and peaceful voting by the electorate in an environment that is safe and comfortable.

The PPP says that GECOM intends to use 2,339 polling stations in 2020, a mere increase of 40 polling stations, compared to 2, 299 polling stations used in 2015. This, the party says even though there is a significant increase of almost 90,000 electors in 2020, when compared to 2015.

“We consider this to be an undue fetter of Guyanese voters to exercise their franchise freely and amounts to a hindrance to the expression of the Guyanese electorate to exercise their democratic right to vote in a comfortable manner and in an accommodating environment,” the PPP said.

The PPP said it belatedly received the revised list of polling stations on Monday, 17th February, 2020, after its elections agent Mr. Zulficar Mustapha wrote to the Chief Elections Officer requesting that information.

Chief Election Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission, Keith Lowenfield.

Upon receipt, that party said it made a number of objections and proposals and also met with Lowenfield to express its concerns and to explain in great details the unnecessary hardships which these decisions will cause.

“At that meeting, a commitment was given by Mr. Lowenfield to consider our proposals with a view to make the necessary adjustments. To our utter disappointment all, except one of its proposals, were rejected by the GECOM without any proper reason or explanation.”

The PPP said in Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara, with almost 7,000 electors, GECOM has reduced the number of polling places from 10 to 2, eliminating completely all private residences, while cramping all the polling stations into two schools situated at the same location.

“This will definitely result in confusion, frustration and will keep voters in lines for several hours. In addition, voters would have to travel miles to arrive at these Polling Places,” the PPP said. At Lusignan, East Coast Demerara, the PPP said one Polling Place is located at the Lusignan Prisons, located over a mile in the deserted backlands from where the closest voter resides; at Annandale, East Coast Demerara, the PPP said again no private residences are used and the entire community would have to vote at three schools, adjacent to each other, at the northern end of the village, and at Chesney Village, Region 6, that party says residents will have to traverse over two miles to the polling station instead of voting in their own community as was the case in previous elections.

The PPP also expressed concern about GECOM’s decision to use tents on the Railway Embankment at Foulis, East Coast Demerara, saying that “is preposterous, since it will lead to traffic congestion and can excite security concerns.”

On the West Demerara, the PPP said there is no polling place in La Grange, a very populated community and the residents are expected to vote in the neighboring village of Bagotsville, which is known to be an APNU stronghold. “The above is not an exhaustive list but amounts to sufficient evidence for the Party to conclude that there may be a deliberate strategy by GECOM to displace voters and create confusion on Election Day,” the PPP said.

GECOM’s website, according to the PPP, is misleading voters with regards to their polling stations. Residents of Felicity, East Coast Demerara, are now informed via the GECOM’s website that they are voting at MMC Parking Lot (Tent). This polling station is not on the list of polling places that were given to the PPP, it was never identified to be a polling station. The party is concerned because this is just one such case that was brought to its attention “but there could be many more such instances which will create chaos and confusion.”