by Chevy Devonish and Denis Chabrol
The People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) intends to ask for a partial recount of ballots in all 10 regions, according to Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Dr. Steve Surujbally.
Surujbally,however, said results to be disseminated by 6PM Wednesday could show a trend towards who would have won the May 11, 2015 general elections. “”You will define it as a trend. I will give it to you as raw data,” he said.
“We will decide by 5pm how we will proceed with the declaration of results in their entirety,” he told a news briefing. He, however, reiterated that the final official results that include the declaration of a winner would be made by the Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield only after he receives such an instruction from the seven-member Commission.
Surujbally said the PPPC wants a partial recount of ballots in all ten regions/districts.
“All of the districts will now be challenged in terms of a percentage of ballots…and the content of the statements of polls,” Surujbally told a news conference on Wednesday.
This request represents and expansion of an early request by the party for recounts in regions/districts 1, 2 and 8. He said that the PPP/C has detailed the specific number of ballots they want recounted in regions/districts 1, 2, 4 and 8, but are yet to specify in a similar manner for regions/districts 3, 5,6,7,9 and 10.
“We do not know that the numbers will be for these regions,” Surujbally said. Further, he was not able to say definitively when the challenges for the latter regions/districts, including region/district 4, will be resolved.
However, with regard to regions/districts 1, 2 and 8, he said “all the planes have been booked and we will be flying out shortly.” He was optimistic that the GECOM would have dealt with the requests by early this evening, thus enabling the elections body to “decide by 5pm how we will proceed with the declaration of results in their entirety.”
Following this announcement a representative of the Carter Center told Demerara Waves “I can’t say for sure whether we will be there because it’s a fast moving situation.” He nevertheless said “we will attempt to get our observers out there (and) are making preparations now at least for the first three and then we will go from there once the rest become confirmed.”
Charge d’ Affaires of the United States Embassy in Guyana, Bryan Hunt, added that the embassy’s observer mission hopes to observe whatever process GECOM decides is appropriate under Guyanese law, including “recounts, or recounts of recounts.”
“Our intention is to be with them throughout the entire process,” he shared.
Canadian High Commissioner, Nicole Giles, and British High Commissioner, Gregory Quinn, have said that their missions will not be observing recounts in regions/districts 1, 2 and 8 if they were to occur.
It is imperative to note that GECOM is still deliberating with its lawyers on whether the requests made by the PPP/C have been so done within the legally required window – 12 hours from the time the declaration.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) + Alliance for Change (AFC) member and Attorney – at – Law Raphael Trotman this morning told Demerara Waves that the PPP/C had until noon on Tuesday to request a recount of the ballots. This, he said, is in keeping with stipulations in the Representation of People Act.
“The law says that you have twelve hours after that to contest or challenge the results. Or call for a recount. They failed to do that. Why can’t we stick with the law?” Trotman said this morning.
Surujbally though, says that whether the request was properly made turns on the interpretation of what constitutes a proper declaration. “
“It is a matter of interpretation, Mr. Trotman might have interpreted it one way, I saw a letter from Mr. Harmon that was interpreting it another way, I dare say Mr. Nandlall will have another interpretation,” said Surujbally.
In fact, Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlal, during a PPP/C press conference today indeed argued that the request was properly made and adduced several Sections of the Representation of the People Act which, in his interpretation of the Act, substantiates his position.
Section 89 (1) (e) of the legislation is material to answering the question as to when the declaration is made, and ultimately, whether the requests for recounts have been properly made.
The section says: “Upon the conclusion of the counting of the votes the returning officer, in the presence of such of the persons entitled under Section 86 (1) to be present as attend, shall… publicly declare and communicate to the (CEO) by the quickest means the number of valid votes cast for each list of candidates in the returning officers’ district.”
“(What) we are going (on) right now, is that when the returning officer has made the public declaration, one has the opportunity to challenge by noon of the following day,” Surujbally said.
He further shared that “others are saying that, you know, the putting of the statement of poll on the wall, that it itself, and in of itself is a declaration, and one can start challenging from that because it is a declaration, a legal declaration from the unit station. So we will be hearing and getting legal advice…”
The second issue is that of reasonableness of the grounds upon which the request of a recount is premised. The PPP/C has said that it believes votes in regions/districts 1, 2 and 8 were rejected for spurious reasons.
Section 93(1) grants the CEO the prerogative to grant or refuse a request for a recount based on whether, in his opinion, the request is reasonable.
This morning GECOM CEO, Keith Lowenfield, said he was yet to consider Section 93, and that the body’s legal advisers were examining the provision.
In the meanwhile, Surujbally noted that “rejected ballots is always a reasonable one.” He said that there may be concerns as to whether the ballots rejected “are in fact rejected ballots in truth, should they have been rejected ballots, (and) did the persons follow the procedure” required to reject a ballot.
Although Surujbally says that the planes to take the relevant personnel into regions/districts 1, 2, and 8 for recounts have been booked, he gave assurances that this and other steps were mere logistical preparations, only to be activated after a final determination by GECOM’s legal advisers.