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Harmon, Nandlall differ on house-to-house registration disenfranchising overseas-based Guyanese

Opposition MP and former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall

The Guyana government on Friday rubbished claims that thousands of overseas-based Guyanese could be disenfranchised if their names are removed from the current voters’ list through house-to-house registration.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon said overseas-based Guyanese could not be registered if they are not at their residences when enumerators of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) conduct registration.

“If you reside overseas and you’re not there at the time when enumerators go to your house then you cannot considered to be in the list of electors. It is not a matter of disenfranchising anyone,” he told a news conference.

Earlier Friday, former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall charged that house-to-house registration would essentially block thousands of Guyanese who would like to return to Guyana to vote in General and Regional Elections.

“There are thousands of citizens of Guyana, 18 years and over, who are currently registered and therefore, qualified to vote (which as the legal authorities cited above established is a constitutional right) and who intends to vote at the next elections; however, these persons are overseas and plan to return home to vote when the date for elections are fixed; the decision of GECOM to embark upon a house-to-house registration which will result in a new voter’s list will exclude those persons if they are not present in Guyana.

As a result, this exercise by GECOM will, therefore, disqualify these persons since they would be excluded from the new list, thereby depriving them of a constitutional right to vote, which they now enjoy, without any fault of theirs, as it cannot be doubted that the “pith and substance” of this exercise is to cleanse the list of these persons who are currently qualified to vote. This, I submit must be unconstitutional,” he said in Friday’s edition of his periodic column, Unruly Horse.

Nandlall cited several local and Guyanese court decisions to prove that house-to-house registration would result in the unconstitutional disenfranchisement of Guyanese whose names are already on the National Register of Registrants and are eligible to vote.

Noting that Guyana’s laws only permit overseas voting by staff of Guyana’s embassies, Harmon acknowledged that at the time of registration, if persons are not there “then certainly your name cannot be on the list; that’s why house-to-house is so important”.

Nandlall’s opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) and its three GECOM commissioners have been resisting house-to-house registration ever since the passage of the no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018. That motion, which was sponsored by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, is subject to a final appeal at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The Guyana Court of Appeal overturned a High Court ruling and invalidated the no-confidence motion, saying that it needed an absolute majority of 34 parliamentary votes to be passed successfully.

The CCJ on Friday set May 10 to hear all matters related to the no-confidence vote. The lawyers representing the State, private citizen Compton Reid, House Speaker Barton Scotland, APNU Chairman Joseph Harmon, the Opposition Leader and Christopher Ram have been given until April 17 to file written submissions and reply by April 23.

In an effort to break a week-old political impasse between government and the Opposition, the United States-based Carter Center had proposed using the National Registration Act to identify the names of overseas-based Guyanese and create a separate list to prevent persons voting for those names.

The Centre had recommended using data from the Ministry of Immigration. GECOM could prepare a reference list of Guyanese who are currently overseas (for three months or longer) and also included on the voter registration list. The voters on the reference list would not be removed from the registration list (other than through already existing legal procedures like, for example, the claims and objections process).

The Carter Center had said the reference list would be made available to party agents and scrutineers to facilitate enhanced review of these names during the electoral process, both during the claims and objections period and on election day, serving as a deterrent to multiple or substitute voting.

The reference list was expected to supplement safeguards already in place in Guyana’s electoral administration to protect against multiple voting.