IN my previous column, I opined: ‘elections observers should be welcomed by all democratic nations and governments who proceed from a position of honorable intentions. Observers can spot fraud, offer recommendations to improve the electoral process, enhance the legitimacy or confirm the illegitimacy of a regime and help countries to strengthen their elections procedures, laws and systems’. At times, when observer missions get it wrong, it can be disastrous, as clearly and recently evidenced by the case of Haiti and Bolivia. In the case of Haiti in the 2010 elections, the Organisation of the American States (OAS) recommended changing the results of the elections with no evidentiary basis for doing so. In notable addition, recent findings on the Bolivian elections are proving that Evo Morales, the former President, was a victim of an observer mission’s tacit coup d’etat. These two cases ought to be of much interest to all Guyanese as we analyse developments of our recently-concluded national elections. This column does not seek to vilify our international friends, nor does it seek to pontificate on the just-concluded elections. This serves to provide information for educative purposes in anticipation of enhanced public debates.
THE CASE OF HAITI
Haiti’s election occurred on November 28, 2010 and was mired in controversy in the first round. Upon the completion of voting by Haitians, the Conseil Electoral Provisoire, Haiti’s version of GECOM, declared the results. First place went to the former First Lady, Mirlande Manigat; Jude Celestin, the government’s candidate, came in second and third place went to Micheal Martelly. The results showed a tight separation of 0.7 per cent between second and third place and this provided fertile ground for cries of electoral fraud or in the Haitian creole, ‘fwod’ and shouts of rigging or ‘gréement’. Numerous allegations of widespread cheating led to the OAS being invited to settle all disputes. The OAS appointed a committee of seven experts to provide oversight and judgment on the election. They recommended a reversal of the first-round results which put Martelly second and Celestin third.
Subsequently, an OAS report on the elections was released and the findings were consistent with the sentiments of the team of experts. This report has been reviewed and critiqued by many, including David Rosnick of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
In his report, ‘The Organisation of American States in Haiti: election monitoring or political intervention?’, he submitted the following:
‘This de-legitimation of the 2000 election, which was not based on any significant flaws in the electoral process itself, was a crucial element in bringing about the 2004 coup against the elected government. The OAS, therefore, contributed significantly to this destabilisation and overthrow of democratic government in Haiti’
THE CASE OF BOLIVIA
The case of Eva Morales and the Bolivian elections is emerging as one of the biggest embarrassment for observers and the work they execute. Bolivia’s elections commenced on October 20th, 2019, there were nine candidates including the leftist President, Eva Morales. Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous President has been a persistent thorn in the side of the United States due to his leftist policies and fiery rhetoric. Bolivians submitted their votes and the results produced by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), showed Morales in separation from the next closest candidate by 7.9 per cent, short of the 10 per cent required to avoid a second round. The seven million registered voters and the rest of the population watched in anxious anticipation of the final results. A sudden stoppage in the transmission of the results sparked allegations of electoral fraud which mushroomed into a public relations blitzkrieg that resulted in Evo Morales being exiled in Mexico. This unexplained break in the displaying of the results was the popular basis for the media, the opposition, the international community and the observers to discredit these elections and the President never got a chance to recover from the avalanche of accusations, he resigned under excruciating pressure. One year later, the report, ‘Observing the Observers: The OAS in the 2019 Bolivian Elections’, written by Jake Johnston and David Rosnick and commissioned by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has revealed that Morales was a victim of deliberate dishonesty by the OAS observer mission. The report found that 299 tally sheets which were deemed by the OAS to have forged signatures were completely false. Also, on page four, the following is documented:
‘The unethical conduct of the OAS in Bolivia has had deeply disturbing consequences. The fraud narrative that the OAS helped promote contributed to Evo Morales, the country’s democratically-elected president, fleeing the country — aboard a plane sent by Mexico — months before his term ended; other officials — including former members of Bolivia’s electoral authority — sit in jail; and an unelected de facto government has assumed power with the support of the military and has engaged in violent repression of protests, the persecution of political opponents, and a drastic change in foreign policy.’
THE CASE OF GUYANA
It might be too early to cast judgment on the elections of March 2, but there is an eerie pattern of similarity with the abovementioned cases has emerged. Guyana is ripe for a baseless narrative of electoral fraud because it has a regrettable rich history of electoral malpractice, it is easy to construct a successful narrative which suggests there is rigging. Also, the political opposition embarked on an unprecedented public relations campaign to convince all and sundry that the government was dead set on manipulating the elections, so the stage was perfectly set. On March 3, the Region Four Returning Officer stopped the agreed process to tally the votes and there was a disparity between the figures he called from his Statement of Polls (SOPs) and the dubious SOPs in the possession of anti-government forces, this sparked a frenzy which almost manifested into the Evo Morales and Bolivia scenario. The OAS was front and centre of the international community’s concerns which was hijacked by the political opposition and communicated as an outcry of electoral fraud. The political opposition is aided by Mercury Public Relations, a US political consultancy with strong ties to the OAS and the Trump administration. This company has constructed a public relations coup d’etat that has cemented the idea of fraud in the Guyana elections that may prove at a later date to be completely false.
The evidence suggests that observers do get it wrong, who will observe the observers?