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Electoral Reform Group says Guyanese need more time for reform process

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 November 2021, 11:29 by Denis Chabrol

The ERG’s symbol

The non-governmental Electoral Reform Group (ERG) has refused to comment on the proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) but has instead publicly called for more time to for consultations and generate inclusive consensus.

“We would really call on the government to give serious consideration to extending this process and to widening the spaces for us to all come together and discuss what is really needed whether on RoPA or the myriad of other issues that have emerged over the years from observers, interested persons, citizens and so on,” said ERG Coordinator Lawrence Lachmansingh on a live discussion Friday night on News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/ Demerara Waves Online News. He could not say specifically how  much more time is required.

He cautioned that working through the media was a “recipe for confrontation” and would lead to much-needed consensus.

In the absence of an “inclusive process” to begin the discussion rather than media engagements, the ERG wants a national conference on electoral reform to bring together stakeholders from political parties, the private sector and civil society to discuss the issue.

Mr. Lachmansingh hopes that the numerous election observer mission reports can be used as the basis for a consultation to examine issues such as the removal of the names of deceased persons and migrants from the voters list, campaign financing, advantage of incumbency of elections,  closer relations between political representatives  and constituents, efficient process for the declaration of results and the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

The commission is largely made up of three persons each from Guyana’s two major political parties, but over the years there have been calls for civil society and other stakeholders to be included. The People’s National Congress Reform and the People’s Progressive Party had also in the past shied away from campaign financing legislation, citing the need to protect donors’ identities.

Fellow ERG member, Dr. Desmond Thomas also argued that GECOM should be restructured to allow for decisions to be made by consensus rather than a single vote to achieve a slim majority of four. Against the backdrop of a deeply divided political landscape between the People’s National Congress Reform and the People’s Progressive Party, he said his organisation preferred to leave the process to wide-ranging consultations and consensus rather than taking a position. “The problem with that is once you take a position you’re cast as being in this camp or that camp. We’re not on that kind…we’re non-partisan and what we want to do is to really focus on getting to a solution and the solution does not necessarily mean one side or the other; there are other solutions,” he said.

Mr. Lachmansingh said the ERG’s work among the grassroots has been hamstrung by the more than year-long COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of funds. However, the proposed RoPA amendments are being analysed, he said, based on a number of categories to ascertain what has been captured by the amendments. Those, he hoped, could be dispatched to the government and form part of a conference.

Noting that the ERG was not a technical expert group but instead of “trying to be in the middle” and offer solutions based on a process.  “Everybody has views but we are not about prescription right now. We are about bringing about that process that involves civil society in a more meaningful way,” said Dr. Thomas while relying on Article 13 of Guyana’s constitution to engage all stakeholders. He cited the need for a lot of education about how the current and future electoral system would work.

Dr. Thomas said the effort at electoral reform was  not merely associated with the March 2 to August 2, 2020 controversial counting and declaration process, but electoral problems have been dogging Guyana for decades. “We have been in this kind of political jungle for a long, long time. Last year was just bound to happen because it was a symptom rather than a cause,” he said.  He said the suggested amendments to the RoPA are far too confined to “narrow areas” instead of the broad issues.

He said his organisation had written to Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall but he has not replied.