GUYANA Elections Commission (GECOM) government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander is confident that GECOM can defend itself against the recent court action aimed at putting a halt to house-to-house registration.
Alexander also believes that the proceedings, filed in the name of private citizen and pensioner Bibi Zeenatoun, are nothing but “political manoeuvrings” to thwart the work of the Commission.
Last week, in a press release, Zeenatoun stated that she will be absent from Guyana for a period of five months commencing at the end of May 2019 which means that she will miss the conduct of house-to-house registration. The countrywide registration is likely to commence in late May or early June, 2019 while training for such is currently ongoing.
Zeenatoun wants the exercise; the creation of a new Official List of Electors and the exclusion of existing qualified registrants to be deemed by the High Court “illegal, null, void”.
Advised by her law firm, A. Nandlall & Associates, she also says that the Commission ought to engage in continuous registration as she insisted that no law requires proof of residency in Guyana as being an element of qualification for registration.
The pensioner also asked the court to grant a writ of prohibition; an injunction and a Conservatory Order to prevent GECOM and its affiliates from conducting the exercise. A letter in this regard was sent to Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield and copied to the GECOM Chair on April 2, 2019 while Lowenfield has since been served the relating court documents.
Asked on Tuesday whether he believes the Commission can stand as faultless against the positions of Zeenatoun, Alexander said: “I certainly feel so, personally, that the Commission can defend itself.”
At the time of his remarks, he was coming out of a short-lived statutory meeting of the Commission. He maintained the position shared by his colleagues that “registration is a legitimate activity”.
“It is very, very strange that people who have, in the past, made and passed laws about registration; [people] who have voted for allocations of money in parliament for registration are now saying it’s unconstitutional,” the Commissioner observed.
“It seems very opportunistic that that is being done. But, for me, it is nothing more than another political manoeuvre to stymie the work of GECOM.”
Alexander also told the media that the Constitutional law regarding house-to-house registration, which has been adhered to for years, is not an act of exclusion.
“Registration is a Constitutional mandate of GECOM and the argument that house-to-house registration will deny people the right to vote is not solid in so far as all Guyanese who are present at the time of registration, as has been the case in the past, will be allowed to register. Instances where one is not present at the time of registration, if one is present at the time of Claims and Objections, which comes after registration, one is again allowed to be registered. So, the act is not one of exclusion. It’s merely an indication that one wants to build a new register of registrants given that there are substantial numbers of people on the register who cannot be accounted for,” Alexander said.
The Government-nominated Commissioners have long stated that the current voter’s list is highly bloated with names of dead persons and persons who now reside overseas.
Alexander added that the National Registration Act, Section 40, provides for the CEO to exclude persons from the list who have been absent from the country for three months following advice from the Chief Immigration Officer. These persons can also make a claim, if they’re in the country at the time, to get back on the list.
At Tuesday’s statutory meeting a proposal by Opposition-nominated Commissioner, Bibi Shadick, was ‘shot down’ by the majority on the Commission leading to the walkout of the meeting by Shadick and her colleagues.
“Commissioner Shadick [proposed] that it was her intention not to attend meetings where registration was prominent on the agenda and suggested that we should adjourn all meetings until such time as the CCJ has made a decision,” Alexander recounted.
“That was not agreed to…so we effectively, once again, had a walk out from the meeting. On this occasion the Chairman declared that the meeting had come to an end.”