By Adam Harris
NO ship in the roughest of seas has ever been buffeted like the Guyana Elections Commission has been in recent weeks. And for sure, no member of the commission has ever been as vilified as Chairperson Claudette Singh.
Such has been the attacks that some persons would have packed up and left. That she has persevered is testimony to her determination to see the elections through to its conclusion.
This all started some time ago; in fact, after the no-confidence motion on December 18, 2018. The People’s Opposition Party argued that elections were constitutionally due within three months of the vote.
But for a free, fair and credible election there must be certain basic things, one of which is a proper voters’ list. Justice Singh was appointed even as the commission was undergoing its own turmoil. Chairperson Justice James Patterson’s appointment had been contested all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
But he had already sanctioned and approved house-to-house registration to ensure a clean preliminary voters’ list. Needless to say, the PPP objected. It wanted power at all cost even if it meant circumventing certain necessities for a poll.
It was Justice Claudette Singh, who, on being appointed, was pressed by the PPP to halt the house-to-house registration. She, in her own deliberate judgement, did just that but ruled that the names compiled during the house-to-house registration be linked to the existing voters’ list. Again the PPP had a problem with this.
Every move to sanitise the list was protested by the PPP all the way to the courts where Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire ruled that names could not be removed from the list. The result was that people who died but whose information never reached GECOM remained on the list.
So it was that the March 2, 2020 elections were held with a vastly bloated list, a situation that the People’s Progressive Party used to great effect as the recount is now showing. There are seven commissioners, three of whom are appointed by the PPP. But when the PPP decided to abuse the commission it was at pains to ignore its own members on the commission.
To really divorce its commissioners from the rest of GECOM, the PPP centered its attacks on the chairperson. The GECOM Chairperson is like the Chairman of a Board of Directors. The real power in the company is the Chief Executive Officer. GECOM has a Chief Executive Officer in Keith Lowenfield.
These attacks against Justice Singh came from just about every quarter aligned to the PPP. Kit Nascimento, Freddie Kissoon, Gerry Gouveia ostensibly for the Private Sector Commission, those news media aligned to the PPP and more recently, Bharrat Jagdeo, were some of the most irrational and vehement attackers.
It was Jagdeo who touted the independence of GECOM when he was in power and when GECOM has as its Chief Executive Officer Gocool Boodoo, the man who gave the PPP a seat that was won by the Alliance For Change.
In 2020, GECOM is only independent when it appears to rule in favour of the PPP. After the elections and declaration which was never faulted by the court, GECOM had every right to swear in a president. The very PPP swore in a president days before the electoral declaration. What was right and good then could not be right and good now.
Former Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding who left office under a cloud has suddenly joined the call for democratic elections in Guyana. It was not surprising that simultaneous with Bharrat Jagdeo, Golding, who is not in Guyana, could recount aspects of the vote declared so far in District Four.
Without GECOM releasing its statements of poll based on calls for the PPP to have them released, Golding seemed to have access to them, unless he decided to use those presented by the PPP. Having resigned as chairman of his elections observer team, he still manages to speak for that team.
He has pronounced on the District Four count although less than 10 per cent of that count has been completed.
Justice Claudette Singh, acting on a decision by President David Granger and Bharrat Jagdeo to undertake a recount of the votes cast on March 2, 2020, decided that GECOM had the power to order a recount. Initially, the PPP only wanted a recount of District Four, hoping to hide all the irregularities in those districts it controlled.
The decision was taken that the recount would involve every district. That should have been the end of the matter except that the PPP started to wage a campaign that the recount should be limited to District Four. That campaign is still ongoing. The erroneous argument is that there were no complaints about the other districts.
GECOM is standing its ground.
The recount has obviated the need for statements of poll but again, the PPP is still insisting that GECOM release those statements of poll in its possession. GECOM has stood its ground.
The PPP then sought to have officers attached to GECOM dismissed or removed. GECOM has ignored the calls. Recently, Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Roxanne Myers, executed a decision taken by the entire commission. The PPP immediately called for her dismissal because the decision did not suit that party.
The recount is ongoing. GECOM made some gazetted orders but from time to time it goes back on those orders, modifying them sometimes after a hue and cry by the PPP. For example, when GECOM used figures provided by a PPP Commissioner and calculated that the recount would take 156 days, the PPP howled to high heaven, none louder than Bharrat Jagdeo.
That conclusion by GECOM was withdrawn.
The PPP asked for 20 counting stations despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The visiting Caricom special mission had said that four counting stations would suffice. Justice Singh in her own judgement ruled that there would be no more than ten.
Based on numbers agreed to by the PPP, there were to be no more than 180 people within the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at any given time. There are some 400.
Today, after noise by the PPP GECOM is considering further amending its gazetted order to allow for between six and eight more counting stations. Suddenly the recount duration deadline is written in stone. Indeed additional counting stations would increase the number of people at the facility in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heaven help if anyone is infected at the conference centre.