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Thousands of election day officials could be disenfranchised- opposition

by Janelle Persaud

A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition is concerned with what it labelled the ‘disenfranchisement’ of electors by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) following a decision not to issue certificates of employment to Election Day officials.

At its weekly press briefing on Friday at the Crown Street-based campaign Headquarters, Executive member, Dr.Rupert Roopnaraine insisted the coalition will not allow such a move to fly. On the other hand, GECOM has insisted that it is merely following the letter of the law.

“This certificate of employment is what is needed if polling agents and our election day officials are to be allowed to vote in districts and divisions in which they are not registered,” informed Roopnaraine.

According to him, this was a concern for APNU in 2011.  He said at least 2,000 persons associated with the coalition in the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections.

He is concerned that GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surubally voted in favour of such an action, breaking the tie between opposition and People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPPC)-nominated commissioners during a meeting on Thursday. “Issuing certificates of employment is well within GECOM’s jurisdiction. The law says they have to use all methods to ensure that difficulties are removed,” he pointed out, hinting that the above mentioned concern could be such a ‘difficulty’. “Disenfranchisement is the last thing GECOM should be engaged in; it should be engaged in ensuring maximum enfranchisement of all electors.”

The coalition is concerned that it may not be able to assign specific persons to “problematic” areas if they are prohibited from voting outside of their districts in the absence of a certificate of employment.“We are not going to sit by and permit what effectively is an act of disenfranchisement of our polling agents,” Roopnaraine insisted.Demerara Waves has confirmed that the Commission did in fact rule that certificates of employment will not be issued. 

Dr. Surujbally in an invited comment explained that the decision has legal implications. “It would go against the law and GECOM has decided to go on the side of the law,” he outlined, noting that should “some eventuality arise in the future, we would have a re-consideration.” While there was precedence in 2001 and 2006, he explained that Chapter 103, Section 29:04 of the Representation of the People Act does not cater for such certificates to be issued to political agents. “If the legal luminaries say it does then I would imagine that there would be new consideration,” the Commission Chair further stated.

The decision was also prompted by the belief that with the issuance of these certificates was the potential for misuse.

Meanwhile, Dr. Surujbally does not find it problematic for major political parties to identify representatives within specific districts to work at polling stations. “There is the opinion that any political party worth its salt…surely can find members within a community to be used as agents at the 2,300 polling stations,” he expressed.

There are more than 567,000 persons on the voters list for the general and regional elections scheduled for May 11, 2015.