WHAT was going through the minds of PPP leaders when they decided to make a big fuss about GECOM’s decision to reduce the number of private residences being used as polling places? Sometimes in their eagerness to vent their frustration, politicians give away their game plan. It is no secret that the PPP has been trying to get GECOM to implement a series of decisions which would have had the effect of contaminating the electoral process and ultimately the outcome.
From their endorsement of the old voters list to their opposition to house-to-house registration to the current issue, that party has made it clear that it intends to use any and every trick in the book to influence the election in its favour.
The fact that the PPP is so riled up at this decision reinforces suspicion that the use of private residences is an arrangement that is fraught with opportunities for abuse. The very tone of the comments by PPP executive member Anil Nandlall raises some questions.
Is it that the PPP feels that another avenue for possible abuse has been blocked? Why did Nandlall give the impression that only residences in PPP strongholds have been affected? Why did he give the impression that the use of all residences was discontinued?
To begin, as GECOM’s CEO and the commissioners, including the PPP-appointed ones, have pointed out, the use of private residences as polling places is not consistent with best practices. Obviously, the practice was first implemented under the PPP’s reign when that party directly and indirectly influenced the operations at that body.
As was clearly articulated by GECOM’s commissioners, the body is attempting to abolish the practice given the potential for real and perceived abuse, especially in instances where the residences of party activists were utilised. As President Granger observed, “Some of them were obscure, some of them were the houses of active political advocates and many persons not associated with the administration at that time were disenfranchised. I am very confident that it will not happen now. I am confident that the elections commission, which is in charge of elections, will make the right decision.”
GECOM has adopted the very reasonable position that where public places cannot be found, they will continue the use of private residences. Clearly, this compromise was made in the spirit of ensuring that electors are not disenfranchised because of unavailability of polling places in their neighbourhoods. Elections must not just be free and fair, but they must be seen by all to be so. Given our history of contestation of election outcomes, the burden on the elections body is even more pronounced.
Any responsible leadership at GECOM should be wary of arrangements that lend themselves to overt and covert manipulation by the competing forces and their allies. At the same time, it has the responsibility of ensuring that there is no mechanism that contributes to voter suppression. In this regard, GECOM’s Chair Justice Claudette Singh is on the ball when she observes that: “Those [private residences] have been reduced because they are using public buildings. It is not that the polling stations are removed from the area, it is just the private residences; they are moving away from those.”
When one takes into consideration that the Carter Center was reportedly on board with the decision to discontinue the practice, it is bizarre that the PPP would report the matter to the observer missions and other related agencies. This publication stands with GECOM on this decision. We believe that everything should be done, at all times, to ensure the transparency of elections. We also chide the PPP for seeking to stir up confusion at this 11th hour. That party knows full well the bad feelings its stance could ignite among its supporters. Guyanese expect better from a party that has been around for so long. Finally, we take the opportunity to call on the Guyanese people of all political persuasions to continue to resist and reject attempts to draw them into conflict.