WPA urges new GECOM Chair to resist “pressures” to scrap house-to-house registration

Last Updated on Sunday, 28 July 2019, 21:52 by Writer

The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) on Sunday called on the new Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson to resist pressure for halting house-to-house registration, amidst incessant calls by the opposition for elections to be held swiftly with a claims and objections period to update the existing voters’ list.

“Justice (Claudette) Singh’s first task has to do with the contentious issue of what to do with the Voters List. She takes up office in the middle of a fierce debate over the House to House registration which was ordered by her predecessor. There would obviously be enormous pressure on her to discontinue that exercise. But she must withstand those pressures,” the party said in a statement to welcome Justice Singh’s appointment.

The WPA’s call comes against the backdrop of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) demanding that President David Granger dissolves Parliament and calls general elections the latest by September 18, three months after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) validated last December’s no-confidence motion.

But the governing coalition, including the WPA, believes that the voters’ list, which expired on April 30, is bloated by about 200,000 names and contains other defects, necessitating the need for house-to-house registration. The High Court is hearing a case in which Christopher Ram states that house-to-house registration is unconstitutional and illegal and will collide with the CCJ ruling which will take elections well outside the three-month period moreso since the opposition has vowed not to extend the life of the government and postpone elections.

The WPA says it hopes that retired Justice Claudette Singh’s apolitical stance will advance the impartiality of the electoral body, and appeals for a toning down of the political rhetoric for GECOM to carry out its mandate. “WPA hopes her decisions would be guided by the CCJ’s doctrine of “marrying principle with practicality.”

The party stressed that while Justice Singh’s tenure “would not be an easy one” her unknown political affiliation and the “needed capital” afforded her in the post of “overseeing an election which from all indications would be keenly fought”, it hopes that “in the final analysis, her stewardship would take the Commission further along the road of impartiality.”

Further, the party noted that “Because she holds the casting vote in an institution that reflects the political divide, she has the dual role of leader and mediator.” In view of this, the “WPA calls on the political forces to tone down the political pressure and allow GECOM to do its work. “GECOM should not be the arena for settling political scores. Compromise and consensus should drive the deliberations and decision-making. Guyana can ill-afford a dysfunctional elections body at a time when the stakes are very high.”

The PPP-aligned elections commissioners had engaged in almost routine walkouts from GECOM meetings over the thorny issues of the failure of that elections management authority to hold elections by March 21 last—three months after the no-confidence motion had been passed—and more recently the decision by former GECOM Chairman James Patterson and the three pro-coalition election commissioners to conduct house-to-house registration.

The WPA also noted the efforts made by President Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to arrive at a cooperative and consensual solution in keeping with the constitution and the CCJ ruling.

“That they arrived at this consensus without any overt external intervention is an indication that Guyanese are capable of solving their problems on their own. This needs to become the rule rather than the exception,” the WPA said in a statement on Saturday.

Recognising that “consensus is not automatic” in view of what it describes as the “underlying distrust between the two major political forces”, the WPA says “we believe that more could be done in this area if the leaders recognize the enormous responsibilities that are placed on their shoulders. We hope that this decision is a signal that hyper-partisanship is giving way to political maturity. There are more challenges to navigate as the country moves towards the most important election since 1953.”

The party rebuked sections of civil society and the media for “encouraging the Opposition Leader to ignore the recommendation of the CCJ and to insist on unilateralism over cooperation” noting that this might have partly contributed to the recent GECOM chair appointment “gridlock”. “The display of partisanship and their stance against cooperation and consensus were not their most shining moments.” the party stated.

The WPA pointed out that while it is positive for all organisations to speak up on national political issues, “Civil Society organizations and individuals should also serve as mediators.”