House-to-house to go on

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The Guyana Elections Commission will commence house-to-house registration today

…GECOM says registration is legal requirement under National Registration Act
…urges eligible persons to register from today
…PPP to field scrutineers although opposed to exercise

THE Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has cleared any lingering uncertainty by announcing that it will commence house-to-house registration from today, Saturday July 20, 2019, ignoring threats by the opposition and other groups that have been lobbying for early polls.

According to a press statement from GECOM, the countrywide exercise is in keeping with a decision of the commission on February 19, 2019 and in accordance with Order No. 25 of 2019 dated June 11, 2019. “Registration is a legal requirement according to the National Registration Act, Chapter 19:08, therefore, all eligible persons are mandated to register,” GECOM said.

House-to-house registration is a new registration exercise and all eligible persons must register even if they were previously registered, the elections management body stated. Upon conclusion of this exercise, a new National Register of Registrants Database (NRRDB), which is reflective of the current Guyanese population, will be created. Subsequently, the Official List of Electors (OLE) will be extracted for the purpose of conducting General and Regional Elections.

Supporters of the PPP/C protesting GECOM’s decision to move forward with house-to-house registration (Delano Williams photo)

Guyanese citizens by birth, descent, naturalisation or registration, 14 years and older by October 31, 2019 or a citizen of a Commonwealth country living in Guyana for a period of no less than one year, preceding the qualifying date, are all eligible for registration.
Residents are urged to have the relevant documents required for registration ready and be on the lookout for GECOM’s registration officials in their area. “These documents include an original Birth Certificate, a Valid Passport, Naturalisation Certificate, Certificate of Registration, Adoption Certificate and Deed Poll or Marriage Certificate (if applicable),” said GECOM.

For the purpose of this exercise, each eligible person will only be registered where he/she resides. Residence includes dwelling places such as homes, residential institutions such as hospices and homes for youth and the elderly. Registration will not be done at GECOM Registration Offices.

While the commission is undertaking the registration exercise, concurrent operational activities for the preparations of General and Regional Elections are underway. A publication in the official gazette dated June 11, 2019 showed that an order was documented for the registration exercise to commence on July 20 and end on October 20, 2019. The document, which outlined a three-month period, was signed by former GECOM Chair, Justice (Rtd.) James Patterson.

The order, cited as the National Registration (Residents) Order 2019, stated: “Persons to whom this Order applies shall, in accordance with Section 6 of the Act, be registered under the process of house-to-house registration with reference to October 31, 2019 and the registration shall begin on July 20, 2019 and end on October 20, 2019.”

NO AUTHORITY TO SET ELECTIONS TIMELINE
A few days after the order was gazetted, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) upheld the no-confidence vote against the government and quashed the appointment of Patterson as Chairman of the commission. However, on July 12, 2019, the court gave Consequential Orders that it had no authority to set a timeline or date for the holding of elections in Guyana.

It stated that only the President, the National Assembly and GECOM can set out a timeline for such. The opposition leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, had also submitted to the court that it was not necessary for the Elections Commission to proceed with house-to-house registration and asked that the commission be ordered to use the OLE in existence in March 2019.

However, by virtue of the previous decision, the CCJ also rejected the line of argument.
Jagdeo and President David Granger are now in the process of finalising a list of six eligible individuals, from which the President will choose a new chairman. Before Patterson voluntarily left office, his last instruction to the commission was for the commencement of preparations towards the conduct of house-to-house registration. This was decided in February 2019 by the seven-member commission by way of vote.

As GECOM continues with its work, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R) has urged the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to desist from trying to interfere with the work of GECOM. “This dishonest behaviour has included threats and other forms of intimidation tactics against the Chief Elections Officer and the elections commission,” said the PNC/R in a press statement on Friday.

According to the PNC/R, this underhand approach extends to the process of appointing a new chairman of GECOM. The CCJ was extremely clear that the parties work together to ‘hammer out’ a solution, yet the PPP/C has acted in “bad faith” by submitting names that they have already had rejected.

Furthermore the PPP/C appear to have rolled back from their offer that, in order to find a consensus, the leader of the opposition is not averse to the President informally suggesting names in their proposed engagement for his consideration. “We call on the PPP to cease and desist from engaging in behaviour that is in violation of the constitution,” said the PNC/R.

PPP PROTEST: TO FIELD SCRUTINEERS
Meanwhile, supporters of the PPP/C on Friday, led by leaders of the party, protested against GECOM’s decision to move ahead with house-to-house registration.

Amidst the loud shouts of, “call elections now,” Jagdeo said Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, is acting in a rouge manner by going forward with house-to-house registration. “It will not prevail, we will work until we get an early election date and ensure GECOM complies with the court ruling,” said Jagdeo, adding that Lowenfield is acting in contempt of the court. He said the PPP/C will ensure that a new GECOM chair is in place and that the house-to-house registration process is morphed back into claims and objections.

Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield

Asked if he intends on going back to the court to address the matter, Jagdeo said the party does not want to be caught up with an issue of long legal battle, but they will file contempt of court proceedings against Lowenfield.

Nevertheless, Jagdeo said his party would not be caught flatfooted and as such it will be fielding scrutineers to monitor the exercise. “Our protest action outside the head office of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) today was to call for compliance with the Constitution of Guyana and the ruling of the CCJ…” Jagdeo said.

He said GECOM should discontinue any attempt to do house-to-house registration and pay a lump sum, let’s say $100,000, to all the enumerators who have been trained for their efforts thus far. GECOM should recall the over 8,000 persons who were trained for the November 2018 Local Government Elections, as well as others, and start the process of training and, where necessary, re-training for General and Regional Elections. There can be no acceptance of any action that represents blatant disregard and disrespect of our Constitution,” the opposition leader said.

WPA WELCOMES NEWS
The Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) said it welcomes the news that GECOM has scheduled house-to-house registration to be carried out within 90 days. “This schedule allows for the holding of elections in the shortest possible time while ensuring that the current voters list is cleaned up.” The WPA said while it pushes elections outside the constitutionally mandated timeline, it adheres to the call of the CCJ for a marrying of principle with practicality.” GECOM should be commended for altering its original schedule to meet the demands of the CCJ ruling. This outcome should satisfy all sides including the PPP which has been clamouring for early elections and those who are concerned that there could be no credible elections with the current list,” the WPA said.

“In other words, the GECOM timeline offers the two political principals an opportunity to come to a consensus on elections before the end of this year. This is a win-win outcome for all sides. WPA now urges the PPP and the President to agree on a timeline for elections and to convene parliament to extend the life of the government in keeping with that agreed timeline.”