Time for reform

IT is now a matter of historical fact that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), as currently constituted, was birthed in circumstances of controversy arising out of the 1992 national elections.

Known as the Carter-Price Formula, after former United States President James “Jimmy” Earl Carter, and the late Prime Minister of Belize, George Price, this mechanism, first employed in 1997, allows for both major political parties to be represented on the commission. Each party is represented by three commissioners, with three appointed by the President in his own deliberation, and the other three after consultations with the leader of the parliamentary opposition. The chairman is then appointed from a list submitted by the leader of the opposition, after a similar process.

Although this formula has guided the total constitutional functions of this national electoral body, it has not been without controversy at the pivotal times of administrating the will of the people.

The national exercise of the will of the people is the most significant and coveted of all the democratic expressions in any society, where such freedoms exist. It is an unfettered exercise that gives the right of choice to citizens in determining those whom they deem as being competent, able, and worthy of their trust, to govern in their name.

Very much incidental to this truism, is that this is a delicate exercise which must be carried out by a body of citizens who must be seen to be above partisan politics, and enjoying the full confidence of the people; and in whose persons, full faith and responsibility for such a seminal undertaking such as managing national elections, in a fully transparent manner, which results must be able to undergo and withstand the most intense scrutiny. This is the ideal that obtains in all democratic societies, where the will of the people is mandated and exercised.

Therefore, there cannot be confidence or comfort on the part of citizens of any state, in which its organization, charged with the constitutional obligation of national elections, continues to be seen through the lens of deep suspicion and hence, doubt. And this is a given, in the unfortunate environment of a racially divided society, such as Guyana,
It is against this background that the recent statement by President David Granger about the Carter-Price Formula “outliving its usefulness”, and creating “gridlock’’ rather than consensus, must be seen. The President concluded by suggesting that the choice of commissioners for GECOM should be carried out by the National Assembly.

This is a very important proposal that is worthy of consideration, given the fact of the history of this critical institution of state, with all that have occurred since its current configuration. In fact, such a position is supported by our constitution, in accordance with the reforms of 2001-2002, which provides for the National Assembly to make recommendations for such offices, to the President.

Only recently, there were accusations against GECOM about its ethnic composition being biased in favour of a section of the country’s population. Although clearly disproven, such a political scurrility does not bode well for national confidence in a country with its problems of race and ethnicity.

One will recall the shocking incident of a former chief elections officer, being caught in what had been a clear act of attempted rigging of the 2011 national elections. Rather than taking the required step of immediate resignation, it was left to the electoral body that had become deadlocked along political party-affiliated lines, to secure the tie- breaking vote of its chairperson to effect the proper and appropriate result for the removal of this dishonest officer.

It was unbelievable that such a situation, which would have been instantly treated in accordance with principles governing the integrity performance, in most democracies, became the subject of dangerous political partisanship. Such would have been a defining moment for the structure of GECOM, particularly the manner in which it functioned. No doubt, this example would have been paramount in the President’s mind, when he made such a proposal at his press conference.

Surely, a GECOM in which commissioners are chosen by the National Assembly, will offer greater consensus between the two major parties. This will further serve for greater confidence in the electoral body being able to be perceived as apolitical, serving only the national interest, in this instance, registered voters and their right to vote.

A national electoral organisation ought not to become a political football, particularly with race being made its dangerous centre-forward. And given the many adverse views through the years of its organisational structure, and how it has functioned, it is self- deceiving on the part of those who for reasons best known to themselves, not to want to effect a review and subsequent changes of a reformative nature.


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