ELECTIONS TIMEFRAME TODAY

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Government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander

…Alexander sees possible date in January, March latest
…opposition says will provide own timetable

THE final work programme of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) which would lay out a timeline for when new General and Regional Elections can be held is expected to be presented to the President today, should things go as planned.

Tuesday’s statutory meeting at the commission resulted in two commissioners being appointed with responsibility of hammering out timelines for final approval by the commission today. Government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander told the media that, from his perspective, the timeframe is not likely to place elections this year.
“We are hoping, by tomorrow [today], to be able to finalise the elections work programme and to be able to communicate to the President a prospective time,” he said.

Chairperson of GECOM Justice Claudette Singh

When questioned further, he gave his opinion: “It may spill over into next year. I’m still in the position that the outer time — in the question of soonest is March [2020] and the inner time seems to be early in the new year.”

On the other hand, opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj is hoping to present a timeline of his own to the commission today for the holding of elections this year.
He told the media that he is “optimistic” that the same will be adopted. The opposition has been vocal about a Claims and Objections exercise to be held once the Preliminary List of Electors (PLE) is extracted from the National Register of Registrants Database (NRRDB) and published.

However, Alexander maintains that it is “highly infeasible” for the current list to now be cleansed and elections held in 2019. “Anything which can be done to make that possible is unacceptable in the first instance and even if those things are done, when one looks at the statutory requirements and administrative requirements in terms of time, December is still, as I said previously, a tall call,” he said.

The only means possible by which Alexander sees the timeline being shrunk further to some degree would be if some foreign entity were to make the printing of Guyana’s ballot papers a matter of national emergency, given the country’s interest in having elections at the soonest possible time. Guyana’s ballot papers are procured from external sources, so time has to be set aside for this process. When it comes to the delivery of the ballot papers, Alexander noted that to fast track this by merely two days would cost the commission an additional US$250,000 or some GYD$52,165,000.

Encoding of data

Opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj

Meanwhile, at the meeting, the seven-member commission also discussed the encoding of data garnered from the recently ended house-to-house registration exercise. Gunraj believes that this process is taking much too long.
“The timeline that was presented to us for encoding by the commission was the 15th of September for a conclusion. As you know, we are at the 17th of September today and the secretariat is now saying that they require at least three weeks,” he contended.

Alexander told the media that around 200,000 names have been encoded thus far. However, he pointed out that this process will stay clear of the “critical path” towards elections, as it will run parallel to the other activities in GECOM’s work programme.
“There are some reviews which are taking place and the way in which we are looking at things, encoding may not necessarily be on the critical path. Encoding may become a part of a parallel process as with other things which we will engage in,” the commissioner said.

He also noted that all of the commission’s equipment is being utilised by teams which are working three shifts. Regarding merging, he added: “What we envisage is a comparison of the information in one data set and another data set, so that we arrive at a third, single data set.”
As these matters unfold, the commission has stated that it is moving swiftly with the training of polling day staff countrywide. Thus far, training of polling day staff has been completed in several regions.

GECOM’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Yolanda Warde told the newspaper that in South Georgetown at 20 locations, 1,185 participants have been trained; on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD) at 20 locations 1,201 were trained; on the East Bank of Demerara (EBD) and in Region Five at 21 locations, 1,596 were trained; in Region Six at 25 locations 1,940 were trained and at 25 locations between Regions One, Two and 10, 2,030 were trained. The commission must now conduct training in the hinterland and in other parts of Georgetown with all training expected to be completed by October.

GECOM’s responsibility

President David Granger

President David Granger on Monday maintained that it is the exclusive responsibility of GECOM to conduct General and Regional Elections here under the constitution and this responsibility is safeguarded against political interference. “The elections commission has exclusive and explicit responsibility for the conduct of general and regional elections in accordance with the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana (at Article 62). The Constitution (at Article 162 (1) I) states further, that: ‘…The elections commission shall have such functions connected with or relating to the registration of electors or the conduct of elections…,’” the Head of State said in an address to the nation, shortly after his meeting with the Carter Center at State House.

He was keen on noting that the elections commission is insulated from political influence, instruction or interference, and its independence is safeguarded by the Constitution. “The independence of the commission and the integrity of the electoral process are essential to ensuring elections which express the will of the electorate,” President Granger explained. As long indicated, the Head of State said he remains committed to providing governmental assistance to GECOM to ensure that the much-anticipated elections are not contaminated by mismanagement or malpractices.

“The elections commission has a constitutional obligation, therefore, to ensure that everything necessary would be done to deliver credible elections. It is the commission’s task to ensure that adequate resources are acquired; personnel are employed; the Official List of Electors which enfranchises all eligible voters is published; administrative mechanisms to ensure efficient polling and the counting and tabulation of results are implemented; and that the laws of Guyana are enforced,” the President detailed.
His government, he iterated, will provide assistance to the commission to enable it to conduct credible elections at the earliest time possible. “My position remains unaltered,” he told the nation. The Head of State added: “I have acted expeditiously throughout the year to ensure that credible general and regional elections are held. I consulted the elections commission on two occasions. I consulted the leader of the opposition on three occasions to select a new chairman of the elections commission in accordance with the Constitution (at Article 161 (1)). I appointed Justice Claudette Singh, SC, CCH, as Chairman [sic] of the Commission and administered the Oath of Office to her on 29th July 2019.”
The President said he has full confidence in the chairperson’s independence, integrity and impartiality and her intention and ability to perform the functions of her office in the best interest of the Guyanese people.

Last week, teams from the government and the opposition met with Chairperson of the Commission Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh and her commissioners on separate occasions to ascertain GECOM’s readiness to conduct early elections. During those meetings, both sides were assured that the commission is doing everything to facilitate early elections free of corrupt practices. Amid increasing pressure from the parliamentary opposition – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) – for elections to be held now, President Granger in his address to the nation said the commission should be allowed to do its work.

Statutory guidelines

Last week, an electoral expert told the Guyana Chronicle that the elections commission must comply with the statutory guidelines outlined in the Representation of People Act, and warned that to do the contrary would be to breach the Constitution and the Laws of Guyana.
GECOM’s Secretariat has proposed a March 2020 election timeline, but the Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has rejected such a proposal. He has threatened widespread protest action after September 18, 2019, if a 2019 date for elections is not set.

But the electoral expert said that Jagdeo and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) have adopted an irrational position. It was explained that the Elections Commission, as advised by the secretariat, must act in conformity with the Constitution of Guyana, the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act of 2000 and Representation of the People Act.
The electoral expert made it clear that neither Justice Singh nor her commission can set a timeframe for elections independent of the secretariat, and in total defiance of the Constitution and the Representation of People Act which have set out clear guidelines.

There are approximately 35 statutory guidelines by which the elections commission must abide, as outlined in the Representation of the People Act. According to Section Nine of the Representation of the People Act, the Notice of the date for submission of the list of Candidates (Nominations Day) cannot be done later than 32 days before elections. Additionally, the act states that candidates must be informed of defects in the list of candidates not later than 30 days before the elections and by the 29th day before the election is held, corrections must be submitted. Those are just three of the 35 statutory guidelines established under the act.
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