OPINION: Private polling places: there should be none

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 February 2020, 14:53 by Writer

by GHK Lall

Are we mad? How long has this been allowed to exist? And how come nobody saw it fit to object strenuously and ceaselessly? I am talking about this matter involving private polling stations, as in the residences of individuals and families. At current count, they have been unilaterally reduced from 166 in 2015 to 92 for the 2020 elections (“Carter Center did address the use of private polling stations in report”, Kaieteur News, February 25).

I think that other than for unavoidable circumstances, there should be none of these ticking weapons of mass national passions. I label them that because they facilitate the emergence of speculations and suspicions about trickeries and deceptions, and this applies whether the residence used is that of a PPP person or of one from the PNC; and when those hard positions take hold, then it is down the tubes for us, with the usual endless squabbling about who cheated whom, and who rearranged the voting situation to favor their group. Of course, it is inevitable, that matters would immediately assume a racial complexion and texture, which only adds the incendiary to an already bubbling toxic stew.

The rest of Guyana could want this, support this, and holler for this, as the Private Sector did by expressing that it is ‘gravely concerned’ over polling place changes, and because of which it is urging Gecom to go back to what was (Stabroek News, February 25). I always thought that I was the unsettled one around here, but now the erratic and suspect Private Sector looks most unhinged with such an exhortation. Nothing good could come of it, as it is a recipe for trouble, serious trouble. If I recall accurately, there was an incident in the 2015 elections involving a party activist and claims about spiriting away ballot material to his residence in Sophia; accurately or not, it ended up rather distressingly and deplorably. I am sure that no sane Guyanese would wish for a repeat of this in 2020, and on a grander scale, now that the private polling places cat is roaming around in public. I don’t.

Thus, I think that, partisan advantage aside, (and I don’t care to which group), this business about private polling stations should have been gone a long time ago. It certainly caught me by surprise. Clearly, they cannot be considered to be “neutral” as the Carter Center pointed out a while back. In my book, neutral means not in any place that permits the usual disbeliefs, or which raise unmoving suspicions thereto; I would construe neutral to indicate open public places. If and when (and only then) there are no such spaces within a defined perimeter, as may be the case in some interior locations, only in those limited situations could I support the use of homes, and then only under the tightest of observations and with heavy precautions taken.

How could anyone—Guyanese voter or observer or contributor, as well as overseas ones—bring themselves to stifle conscience and local electoral reality to suggest that this is acceptable is beyond me, or that it should be allowed to continue, because it is late in the game, and that it is unilateral as well. I sense angling for advantage, if not skullduggery. If I am this cynical, then just think about the diehards and loyalists out there in Guyana’s elections land, and rearing to claim foul from now. I will fault the people at Gecom for being late on the draw with this one, but it cannot be left alone, as the opportunity for mischief proliferates. And, even if there is an absence of any such perversity, the suspicions will not go away tamely and totally.

These circumstances present customized openings to question, to cast doubt, and to unravel what might have been a clean elections process, come March 2nd, just by their mere existence. Now I am hearing the speciousness of “disenfranchisement” being bandied about freely and unthinkingly. Surely, these compatriots could not be serious! I am troubled that they would wish to allow and perpetuate any dark corner, from which there could be danger that the entire process is called into question. As is well known, national elections are increasingly razor thin; all it takes is for one objection to be made with a couple of votes here from a few residences here and there, for the floodgates of disputes and endless controversies to invade and cloud whatever positives that may have been realized in the voting process.

The last time around it was Statement of Polls. If I were involved, I might be tempted to make a living off the existence of these polling stations that simply have to go. My regret is that more of them, all of them, could not be discarded in one fell swoop.

Mr. GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.