‘No space for polls this year’

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Government-nominated Commissioner, Vincent Alexander speaks to the media (Samuel Maughn photo)

…Alexander says GECOM timetable can’t facilitate elections this year

Little came out of a meeting on Tuesday between the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo even though the latter left the Commission stating that he was encouraged by feedback received from the Chairperson. Government-nominated commissioner, Vincent Alexander, has insisted that, while he would participate in a re-discussion of the timelines, the Secretariat’s timeline put forward has no space for an election this year.

During the meeting requested by Jagdeo, all of what the opposition and government nominated commissioners have been debating for the last several months was rehashed with no new information put on the table.

The Leader of the Opposition, on his own, has held press conferences every week to publically speak on the very issues he brought to the Chairperson on Tuesday. In fact, giving a recap of what he pitched to the Commission, he stated: “We went through the details of the merger to show that 1) it would be merging unverified data with verified database; 2) that it would take a very long time to do so; 3) that the cross-matching of fingerprints would not be helpful in identifying duplicate registration; 4) that the NRR will be contaminated with multiple registration and we said there is a simpler way to identifying new registrants because only the new registrants can be added to the List and that could be done swiftly in a Claims and Objections period.”

At the meeting, Jagdeo was accompanied by People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira; Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) Anil Nandlall, Juan Edghill and Joe Hamilton and PPP Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha.

Opposition nominated Commissioner, Sase Gunraj (Samuel Maughn photo)

Much like what the Opposition-nominated Commissioners have said in the past, Jagdeo floated that elections can easily be held “long before the end of the year” on a ramped up timeline. The views of his party have swarmed the media even before the GECOM Secretariat, last Friday, made a proposal to the Commission that credible elections can be facilitated by March 2020.

Nonetheless, upon leaving the Commission, the Opposition Leader insisted that, following the engagement, he is more optimistic based on the feedback received from Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh. Pressed several times to state what exactly encouraged him, Jagdeo declined to answer directly and shifted the responsibility over to the commissioners.

“The Chairman said some encouraging words; very encouraging words but I will not repeat them, maybe you can ask the commissioners,” he said. He later added: “…encouraging words because it has an outside limit to this whole ordeal that we are going through… March [2020] is totally out the window, we’re looking for elections before the end of the year. They [the Commission] will continue their discussions. There were some very encouraging signs and statements made and we’ll await the discussions from the Commission and the decisions.”

Later, pressed with the same questions, Opposition-nominated Commissioner, Sase Gunraj likewise shifted from giving a direct answer on the “encouraging” words relayed. “The Commission was very receptive of the ideas and I am sure he [Jagdeo] has made his case to you when he came out as to what ideas he has pitched to the Commission and, I must say, that the Commission was very receptive to those ideas…whatever reports that the Leader of the Opposition would have given subsequent to that meeting, I believe that is it. The reaction of the Chairperson has to come from the Chairperson, not me,” he said.
Gunraj also told the media: “We have not made any decisions today. In fact, the longest part of the meeting was the engagement with the team led by the Leader of the Opposition and we’re meeting again Thursday, hopefully to have some meaningful discussions in relation to the holding of elections.”

Rehashing of positions

Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo [first right] leaves the meeting with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Tuesday in the presence of People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira; Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) Anil Nandlall; Juan Edghill and Joe Hamilton and PPP Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha.
Government-nominated Commissioner, Vincent Alexander also told the media on Tuesday that even during the rehashing of information already known, he took the opportunity to highlight key facts to the Opposition Leader and his team. “We heard [at the meeting] all that you all know and would have heard before; all of the issues that he would have raised previously,” Alexander said.

“Commissioners sought in a few instances to clarify some matters; I sought to clarify some matters. He [Jagdeo] made the point that we have used this List repeatedly and there had been no complaints about it and I made the point that, since 2011, internally I’ve raised issues concerning the List because in 2011 we saw spikes in certain parts of the country in terms of registration which seemed not to reflect the population.”

Withholding of scrutineers
Alexander said that he also put forward that the Opposition, having withheld their scrutineers from the house-to-house registration exercise which they disagreed with, does not give them the leeway to now call it flawed as a result of their negligence.
Added to this, the Commissioner stated that the registration exercise is the best means by which citizens can be verified as able or unable to vote. “Given the presence of the Opposition, we merely went through the minutes. I made it clear that I was not engaging with the Leader of the Opposition for a debate, I was just giving factual clarification,” he said. Although the Opposition Leader left the Commission encouraged, Alexander stated that while he would participate in a re-discussion of the timelines, the Secretariat’s timeline put forward has no space for an election this year.