WHAT has been described as a higher voter turnout at this year’s recently concluded General and Regional elections as compared to that of 2011, has been lauded by the Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Led by Belizean Senator, Lisa Shoman, the observer mission sought to congratulate Guyanese for their participation in the electoral process which was recorded to have a high voter turnout.
Comprising a team of 22 observers from 13 countries, the OAS was present from the opening of the polls up to the counting of the votes in all 10 administrative regions of the country, visiting a total of 379 polling stations on Election Day.
Furthermore, the team hinted at their intention to remain in place until the final results are tallied, after which they will make a public report once the official results are announced.
Additionally, in a statement released yesterday, the Mission underscored the “significant improvements” made by Guyana’s elections regulatory body, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), since 2011 to plan and prepare for the 2015 electoral process, specifically in the areas of transparency, logistics and inclusiveness of political parties in the process.
“The Observation Mission highlights the extraordinary commitment of presiding officers, returning officers, poll clerks, party agents and security officials in the exercise of their duties and commends voters for their determination to fulfill their civic responsibility, despite facing long lines in some cases” the statement added.
However, the mission has expressed their concern over the “reported incidents of violence” in some areas, which temporarily affected the planned progress of the tabulation exercise.
To this end, based on the observations and information gathered by direct observations of the OAS team, as well as in meetings with a wide range of stakeholders, the mission offered a series of preliminary findings aimed with the purpose of strengthening the electoral system in Guyana.
Firstly, they noted that while the process of transmitting results in Guyana contains safeguards to reinforce the accuracy of the electoral outcome, the manual nature of the process is inherently time-consuming. To rectify this, the mission recommended that GECOM consider the implementation of a system to issue preliminary results for national elections. The use of technology they said, might serve to defuse tension and avoid incidents of violence on election night.
Secondly, after hearing from a “wide variety” of stakeholders that access to state media was not provided to all political parties on an equal basis, the mission recommended that consideration be given to regulation that promotes equitable access to all contenders in the electoral process.
“At the same time, the Mission wishes to recognize the work of the Media Monitoring Unit in highlighting the disparity in coverage by media during the political campaign” they added.
Next was the issue of the “tone of the political debate” leading up to Election Day. Political parties were urged to “build a constructive dialogue based on programmatic actions” that benefit the Guyanese people and avoid aggressive personal disqualifications.
Noting that Guyana benefits from the house-to-house voter verification exercise which is conducted in the presence of party scrutinizers as well as from the pre-electoral claims and objections process, the mission observed from discussion with stakeholders that there were concerns related to a 20% increase in the number of voters. As such, the Mission observed the lack of a timely procedure for cleansing and updating the voter registry.
“With regard to political financing, the OAS/EOM observed that while a legal framework already exists, there is the clear need to revise and modernize aspects of the law which are obsolete and which allows violations and non-compliance with few sanctions. Additionally, in order to promote equity in the electoral process, the Mission recommends the consideration of some form of state funding for political parties” the OAS advised.
The mission then commended GECOM’s effective enforcement of the gender quota of political parties in the pre-electoral process. This praise follows the fact that the mission observed a significant presence of women throughout the electoral process as poll workers, party agents and candidates.
“Guyana is the only country in the anglophone Caribbean with a gender quota, which requires that candidate lists be composed of at least 33% of women, on both the national top-up and geographic levels. As we await the final electoral results, the OAS/EOM calls on all political parties to respect that percentage established in the actual allocation of the seats” they said.
Another recommendation was made for the introduction of a standardized process that will allow the verification of at least one or two additional voters while one voter is casting his/her ballot. This suggestion was made to combat the issue of having long lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day. Furthermore, the Mission recommends the consideration of special measures to facilitate the access of disabled people and the elderly to polling stations.
In concluding, the Mission reiterated to the political parties and citizens of Guyana that the only official source of election results is GECOM. They urge all stakeholders to respect the will of the Guyanese people by waiting until the tabulation process has concluded and the results are declared by GECOM after which the newly elected authorities will be sworn in.
To this end, the OAS Mission seized the opportunity to thank the Government of Guyana for the invitation to observe this electoral process and to the Guyanese people for their warm welcome to their country. “In addition, the EOM thanks the governments of Canada, Chile, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States and Spain for their contributions that made this mission possible,” they said.