…citizens in countrywide demonstration at GECOM offices
By Gabriella Chapman
AS the People Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) continues to push for general elections without observing the mandatory registration process, supporters of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) as well as the youth population, on Monday began mobilising, mounting pockets of protest action in various parts of the country to press for the holding of house-to house registration before any elections can be held.
It started in the townships of Lethem, Linden, Bartica, and New Amsterdam, and quickly spread to sections of Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), and Fort Wellington, as residents armed with placards came out in their numbers and protested outside of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) office in their respective regions.
Up in Lethem protesters chanted, “Clean up the list. No registration; no elections.”
One protestor, Jason McLean, told the Guyana Chronicle that the people Lethem are upset that the Opposition is trying to deprive a large number of youths of the opportunity to vote, in breach of their constitutional right, and that this ws their way of demanding that their constitutional right is respected.
Monday’s protest, McLean said, was their way of showing solidarity with the stance the APNU/AFC has taken to reject the Opposition’s call, and allow for house-house registration, before proceeding with elections.
“The Constitution of Guyana, he said, “caters for free and fair elections, giving persons above the age of 18 the right to cast their vote. The protest today is to demonstrate that we are aware of our rights, and that we would like our rights to be respected.
“Calling elections before registration will be disenfranchising our youths from having the opportunity to vote, because that list they have there has expired,” the young man said.
Protestors were also asking that the monies that were allocated to GECOM to conduct house-to-house registration be used for the purpose it was intended, and not to fund elections.
One Lethem woman said that sitting back and allowing GECOM to move forward with elections without registration is not an option for her.
“We would be selling ourselves short, and giving way for a corrupt election process,”she said, while another contended that the people of Lethem are deeply appreciative of the developments the township would have seen in the past three years.
Their support of the APNU/AFC government, she said, is attributed to the fact that the people are grateful, and would like to experience more progress, and be afforded ‘the good life’ as promised by His Excellency President David Granger.
Though the people were stern about their stance, the protest was peaceful and violence free. However, they hope to get satisfaction for their constitutional demands.
Central Executive Committee Member of the PNCR region three branch, Ganesh Mahipaul said that the protest in their region was done to send a message to GECOM.
“The protestors believe that in order to have free and fair elections, the list must be sanitised. Persons who are on the list and have lost the eligibility to vote must be removed, while the ones who have reached eligibility to be on the list must be on the list. The Region believes that the only way to have a proper list is to have house-to-house registration.”
It must also be noted that a proper election can only be held once all the activities leading up to elections are done properly,” Mahipaul said, adding:
“The foundation of a free and fair and free from fear election is to have a clean list. If the foundation is bad, then the election cannot be deemed credible.”
Meanwhile, in Bartica, Regional Chairman, Gordon Bradford expressed similar sentiments, saying, “The exercise here in our town is in keeping with our mandate that the list must be cleansed of all the dead citizens, and the young people who would have qualified over the years be registered.”
“Everyone aged 18 and over must be given the opportunity to vote, and we hope that after all this, good judgment will prevail.”
At the protest in New Amsterdam, Deputy Election Coordinator for Upper Corentyne, Faiz Mursalin, said, “The people are pleading with GECOM to get the house-to-house registration done as quickly as possible.’’
Mursalin said they will be keeping up the pressure until GECOM commences registration.
The protest in Berbice spread further than NA, as the residents at Fort Wellington came out in full support of the mandate, carrying placards proclaiming: ‘Sanitise the list’; ‘To disenfranchise is to chastise’; ‘My vote must count!’ among other things.
A spokesman for the youth faction said that he and others are rejecting the opposition’s call for elections despite the voters list being incomplete and generally flawed.
“We are demanding that they stand down until house-to-house registration is complete, and that they respect our rights as young Guyanese,” the youth representative said.
About 30 Lindeners representing both the APNU and AFC parties, reportedly gathered peacefully in front of the Mackenzie GECOM office. For them, this was their second round of picketing action.
At the forefront of the protest was APNU Regional Councillor, Douglas Gittens, who said that the idea is to let it be emphasised that house-to-house registration is pertinent, if early regional and general elections are to be held.
“We want GECOM to know again that we are not going into an election with the list the way it is. We must have a new sanitised list, with house-to-house registration, before we even enter into any discussion about elections,” he said.
Gittens also related that today will see a much larger mobilisation of protestors in front of GECOM, and that the protest will continue until positive word about their demands is given by GECOM.
One youth, Dwight Bennett, who has reached eligibility status, said that he has perused the list in his constituency and his name is not on the list. He strongly believes he has a right to vote at the next election.
“I think youths should vote, because we need more opportunities. And I want my voice to be heard,´he said, adding: “At the last election, youths came out and voted like a boss to put the government in power, so we need to do the same again.”
Organising the first round of protest actopn was Member of Parliament Jermaine Figueira, who said that the government is in no way afraid of elections, but it must be done the proper way.
Though the people were stern about their stance, the protests were peaceful and violence free. However, they hope to get satisfaction for their constitutional demands.
Just last week, citizens flocked the GECOM office in Georgetown, with the same demands. At the picketing exercise, Public Security Minister and AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan, said that while GECOM will make the final decision on whether house-to-house registration would be conducted, it is his position that national registration is a necessary process that guarantees all eligible Guyanese their right to vote.
According to Ramjattan, if the old list of electors is used for the upcoming elections, thousands of young people, who have not registered but are eligible to vote, will be excluded. They are also concerned that the current list is distended with dead people whose names have not been struck off.