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GECOM rules out local govt elections this year, eyes mid-February 2016

Mr. Vishnu Persaud, Deputy Chief Election Officer (extreme right) making a point to – from left going down the table – Mr. Derek Lambe, Head of Political, Press and Information of the European Union in Guyana, Canadian High Commissioner Mr. Pierre Giroux, British High Commissioner to Guyana, Mr. Greg Quinn and Mr. Bryan Hunt, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America in Guyana. On Mr. Persaud’s right are Dr. Steve Surujbally, Chairman of GECOM and Ms. Juanita Barker, GECOM’s Legal Officer

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Thursday ruled out Local Government Elections being held this year and, according to a well-place source, the polls could be held  around mid- February, 2016.

Insiders told Demerara Waves Online News on strict condition of anonymity that the elections for the 65 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and six towns could be held on February 15. GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield declined to discuss timelines because the two new commissioners, who have been nominated by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC), have not been sworn in and so the full commission was yet to meet following the National Assembly’s passage of the last remaining amendments to local government elections.

Members of the Disciplined Services are to cast their votes one week ahead of civilians.

Referring to Wednesday night’s approval of amendments to the Local Government Authorities Act by the National Assembly, the elections management agency said in a statement “Consequent upon the passage of the Bill by Parliament, the preparations for, and the prerequisite conduct of Claims and Objections leading the finalization of the Official Register of Voters would take GECOM at least to the end of 2015.”

That is in stark contrast to what was stated in the explanatory memorandum in the Amendments Bill that  those changes were part of a plan to hold local government elections in December, 2015.  Despite government’s repeated promise that Local Government Elections would be held this year, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan told the National Assembly that he would have to be guided by GECOM’s readiness before date could be announced.

GECOM’s statement in which the holding of the polls this year was ruled out focused on a meeting between top GECOM officials and senior Western diplomats here on Wednesday.

With the passage of the amendments, GECOM is about to extract the names of eligible voters from the National Register of Registrants to compile the voters list for the Local Government Elections and open it up for Claims and Objections for 28 days. That would be followed by five days for appeals to objections, seven days to process them, 30 days for finger-print cross-matching and then the posting of the final voters list seven days later.

Although voting would take place largely on the coastland and in Regions 1 (Barima-Waini), Region 7 (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and Region 9 (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo), the GECOM official said persons, who have since moved from areas outside of the Local Authorities and are residing in electoral districts could make claims to enter the list. However, the source said entry would not be automatic because the new address would have to be first verified.

Under the new Local Government electoral rules, persons would be allowed to vote only in constituencies in which they reside.

Just under 10,000 persons will be employed at various levels on E-Day when there will be about 1,600 polling stations.

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Dr. Steve Surujbally, gave the assurance that the Commission will commence the implementation of its Work Plan for the conduct of Local Government Elections immediately after the outstanding legal lacunae are passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President David Granger.

This pledge was made by Dr. Surujbally during a meeting on Wednesday, September 9, 2015, in the GECOM Boardroom, with Mr. Derek Lambe, Head of Political, Press and Information of the European Union in Guyana, Mr. Bryan Hunt, Chargéd’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America in Guyana, British High Commissioner to Guyana, Mr. Greg Quinn and Canadian High CommissionerMr. Pierre Giroux. Dr. Srujbally was accompanied at the meeting by Mr. Vishnu Persaud, Deputy Chief Election Officer, and Ms. Juanita Barker, GECOM’s Legal Officer.

GECOM said the diplomats were given the assurance that, notwithstanding the foregoing, the Commission’s Secretariat had already gone ahead with (i) training and selection of permanent and temporary staff to man the Offices where Claims and Objections will be conducted within the respective Local Authorities, (ii) identification of locations for the establishment of Offices for Electoral Registrars and Assistant Electoral Registrars, and (iii) the identification of persons to be trained and appointed to work as Returning Officers, Deputy Returning Officers, Clerks to the Returning Officers and Election Day Staff with specific reference to the conduct of Local Government Elections.