MONDAY’S General and Regional Elections took place in a deeply-polarised environment, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) Chief, Urmas Paet, said while noting that though the election was well managed by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), there were some inconsistencies at the level of polling stations.
“[The] voting process was well managed and the electors were able to exercise their vote freely,” Paet told journalists during a press conference at the Guyana Marriott on Wednesday. In presenting the EU EOM preliminary report on the elections, he noted that while the process was well managed, there were some procedural safeguards that were not consistently applied.
In justifying the EU EOM’s position, Paet pointed out that safeguards put in place by the Elections Commission to prevent double voting by members of the Disciplinary Services, who had voted on February 21, were not consistently applied during the March 2 Elections. It was contended that the names of voters were not systematically checked to confirm if Joint Services ranks had already voted on February 21.
The EU EOM, however, expressed satisfaction with the tabulation of the votes at the polling station but noted rooms for improvement. While scrutineers from the smaller political parties were few in numbers, the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had agents spread across the country observing the electoral process.
“Counting was conducted in a transparent manner, but reconciliation procedures were not always followed. In the absence of clear, written instructions, the mission noted inconsistencies in the results transmission and tabulation process,” Paet, a Member of the European Parliament, explained. It was observed that a large percentage of the envelopes containing Statements of Polls were not properly sealed, and in some cases were opened by Deputy Returning Officers (DROs) before they were submitted to the Returning Officers.
The Mission’s Chief Observer was also keen on noting that while the election was efficiently managed, limited inclusiveness, transparency and engagement with electoral stakeholders undermined confidence in the Guyana Elections Commission. There was limited access to critical decisions made by GECOM, in addition to little or no access to essential electoral data in the lead up to the March 2 General and Regional Elections.
“Whereas the full list of electors is published, key regulatory instruments and critical electoral data, notably information pertaining to the revision of the list, are not publicly available,” Paet reported, while explaining that there were often times no systematic publication of decisions made at the level of the seven-member commission. “GECOM’s lack of official communication with the media results in its messaging being essentially left to individual commissioners providing their own, often conflicting accounts of internal deliberations and decisions,” he said while adding that public confidence in the electoral administration is often weakened by the absence of regular, structured engagement with key electoral stakeholders.
Like the Organisation of American States, Electoral Observation Mission (OAS EOM), the EU Mission highlighted the challenges faced as a result of the composition of the elections commission. The commission consists of three members nominated by the President, three by the leader of the opposition and a chairperson agreeable to both.
“Introduced to assuage discontent ahead of the 1992 elections, this formula has led to strong partisanship, affecting GECOM’s ability to function as a collegiate body. Excessive polarisation results in the chairperson having to act as tiebreaker on most decisions. Furthermore, the composition of the commission reflects the political spectrum of 1992, leaving out smaller parties,” the EU Chief Observer reasoned.
Hours later, the Commonwealth Observer Group led by Rt Hon. Owen Arthur, former Prime Minister of Barbados, made similar observations during a press conference at Cara Lodge, Georgetown. Like the OAS, the Commonwealth made a case for constitutional and legislative reform that would result in a commission that would not be divided along party lines.
“A key issue repeatedly raised in our interactions was the urgent need for constitutional and electoral reform to address what stakeholders view as a complex and multi-faceted polarisation of the nation. These divisions are reflected in the composition, structure and operations of GECOM itself,” Commonwealth Chief Observer told journalists. He noted that is important for the electoral system to be fully inclusive of different stakeholders and minority groups.
The Commonwealth, European Union and OAS Observation Missions all shed light on the bloated National Register of Registrants Data Base and the Official List of Electors (OLE), with the hope that legislative reforms would lead to a new register and periodic house-to-house registrations. The OLE used in the just-concluded elections consists of 660,998 electors, which is almost the size of the country’s population.
Arthur, while noting that the decision by GECOM to create a new register had hit a stumbling block in 2019, underscored the need for comprehensive reform of the voter registration system, inclusive of legislative reform.
The International Observers have also bemoaned the fact that an election petition filed in the High Court following the 2015 General and Regional Elections is still pending.