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GECOM begins recounting some ballots to address PPPC concerns

Left to Right: Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy, Bryan Hunt; Canada’s High Commissioner to Guyana, Nicole Giles and Britain’s High Commissioner Gregory Quinn talking with reporters shortly after meeting executive members of the PPP at Freedom House, Robb Street, Georgetown.

by Zena Henry and Chevy Devonish

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Wednesday  afternoon began recounting votes in three districts, following bitter complaint by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) about alleged skullduggery.

GECOM Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield says GECOM is going ahead with the partial recounts of ballots in regions/districts 1, 2 and 8.  

The CEO confirmed this to Demerara Waves just minutes ago, explaining that the Returning Officers of the respective regions have agreed to the recount. The recount is being done in accordance with Section 89 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, as opposed to Section 93.

The relevant section reads: “A duly appointed candidate, or counting agent present when the counting or any recount of votes is completed, may request the returning officer to have the votes recounted or again recounted; but the returning officer may refuse such request if in his opinion it is unreasonable.”

During a news conference earlier today Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Steve Surujbally, said whether the recounts would be done was not final, and depended on a settling of whether or not the requests were properly made.

The PPP has signaled its intention to ask for recounts in all 10 electoral districts, a move that could potentially delay the announcement of official results and the declaration of a winner.

The PPP Civic says its concerns are so grave that the elections were not “free from fear”, although the International community and observers have labeled the May 11, 2015 polls free, fair and credible.

Education Minister Priya Manikchand in disputing claims that the elections were “free and fair,” sought to justify her party’s claims of “electoral malpractices” at polling stations.

While the party did not provide specifics on the locations where they are demanding the recount, media operatives were told, on Wednesday May 13, that scare tactics were the biggest hindrance to ensuring that the process was legitimate. Culture Minister, Frank Anthony said at the Freedom House press conference that the recount call came when, “it was realized that some of our accounting agents were forced to flee some of the polling places out of fear… As the counting phase began some of our agents were intimidated and flee for their own safety. We have noticed an extremely high number of rejected ballots which we believe would have resulted following the absence of our counting agents in some of these areas.”

The party member continued that in some cases, there was a high voter turnout, “more than the average national turnout, which raises suspicion of possible electoral transgression.”

Manickchand told media operatives that where she was posted-Region Five- she saw a number of irregularities and also received such reports. She waved a photo of a man allegedly born 1958, but looked to be in his thirties being allowed to vote. She noted that a voter with an identification card was told that someone had already voted with the said name, while two other cases entailed persons without identification cards being allowed to vote despite them looking nothing like their folio photo and despite the objection of the PPP agent there.

To further justify their claims of fear tactics, the party members alluded to the destruction of property in various areas and assault committed against party members and their assistants. One of the PPP members, who lost property during the Sophia unrest that occurred on the evening of May 11, was also invited to give her side of the story.

Manickchand took umbrage also at statements about the party and said their were reported to co GECOM. She said that she was one of the persons emailing the GECOM representative for her region, stating the irregularities that she had seen and received at the time. These email were acknowledged, she clarified.

In the meantime, Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall has stated that the party “is not preparing anything to go to Court.” The party’s General Secretary had hinted even before polling day that should the party feel cheated they had the right to take the matter to court to withhold the declaration of the winner.

To this, the former AG noted, “we have not reached that stage; we have not looked at that as an option because it is unnecessary at this stage.” He said however, that “a billion” things can occur that could eventually force the party to take that legal route; but refused to highlight any.

However, “one of the consequences of a recount would be to prevent a final declaration”, but this is based on the interpretation of the law, said Nandlall, a PPP Committee member suggested. On the issue of instability within the country if the declaration of a winner is delayed, Manickchand opined that she believes Guyana is a mature country that should be able to have an election today and move on the next day.

Nandlall noted however that the party is exercising its legal right which is all part of the election process. He noted that while the voting aspect is completed and the counts ongoing, asking for a recount is only, “another component of the process.”