‘No’ to return of residency requirement for voters list; GECOM’s formula blocked election rigging- Jagdeo

Last Updated on Friday, 25 March 2022, 20:41 by Denis Chabrol

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo meeting with US Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Caribbean, Barbara Feinstein (in green outfit) and US Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah-Ann Lynch.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Friday said his government was working to tightening electoral laws and procedures but he effectively ruled out reverting to residency as a requirement for being on the voters list.

“I pointed out that we are going to work with the international community and all the parties, including APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) in the Parliament to strengthen the laws surrounding the conduct of elections, to remove the discretion and the room for capricious behaviour by any elected official by any elected official,” he told a news conference shortly after meeting with United States Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Caribbean and Haiti, Barbara Feinstein.

He said that in 2015, the number of eligible voters was about 575,000 but an estimated 416,000 persons had voted, and in 2020,  of the 660,000 listed eligible voters, 460,000 had cast ballots.  Mr. Jagdeo labelled as “patently false” APNU’s claims of a bloated voters list because the electoral process had included a robust arrangement at the polling places to verify voters and and had included opposition agents who had signed the Statements of Poll.  “This whole issue about a bloated voters list is a smokescreen for their attempt to rig the elections,” he said. A national vote recount had shown that the results had varied from two declarations by the then Region Four Returning Officer and another calculation by then Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield based on what he had considered valid votes from the recount.

In the wake of concerns raised by People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Leader, Aubrey Norton in Thursday’s meeting with Ms. Feinstein,  Mr. Jagdeo recalled that through the constitutional reform process the PNC and his People’s Progressive Party had agreed to scrap residency as a reason for being on the voters roll.

Asked if he favoured the reintroduction of residency as a requirement for being listed to vote in order to address concerns about bloated list, Mr. Jagdeo said, “‘no’ because we sat together. The people of this country wanted that. That came out of a consultative process that we held across the country.” Mr. Jagdeo said his party distrusted the PNC because back in 1997, the PNC and PPP had agreed to use voter identification cards and after they had lost had challenged the constitutionality of the cards, leading then High Court Judge Claudette Singh to vitiate the elections. “I don’t trust them. We (are) not tying any bundle with them. The people of this country have to decide through the public consultations,” he said.

The Guyana government, he indicated, would be tabling legislation to amend the Representation of the People Act when the National Assembly meets again, He explained that would help to determine “transparency around the conduct of the elections” by identifying polling places several weeks in advance and publicised, formulation and sharing of manuals by the Chief Elections Officer, treatment of election-related documents, publishing  all Statements of Poll before tabulation,

He also favoured a retention of the three-three-one formula of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in which the opposition is represented by three commissioners and the governing party three with a Chairman. The Vice President feared that if the Commission were to become less political and technical, there was a greater chance of elections being rigged. “I pointed out to the Deputy Assistant Secretary that the threat did not come from the political body- the 3-3-1. It came from the technical staff of the Secretariat; that is where, in complicity with APNU, they sough to rig the elections so had we not had the 3-3-1 formula, today you would have had an illegal government in office with results declared that had no basis on how people voted and so we have to be very cautious about these matters,”

Back in 1990, then President Desmond Hoyte had eventually relented to key electoral reforms  that had been demanded for decades by the PPP. Unknown to top PNC government officials, Hoyte had made an about term and after talks with former United States President Jimmy Carter had agreed to the 3-3-1 formula for GECOM, a new voters list and the counting of votes at the place of poll rather than centralised counting.

After those reforms had been put in place, what had been considered as the first free and fair elections in 28 years had been held on October 5, 1992 and had seen the return of the PPP to government until 2015 when it lost to the PNCR-led APNU+Alliance For Change coalition.