THE General Elections (Observers) Act provides stipulations for the presence of observers at elections. Section 3 (1) states that the President may, after consultation with the Chairman of the Elections Commission, invite persons from outside Guyana to visit Guyana for the purpose of observing the democratic processes of the State as enshrined in the Constitution, and more specifically, the conduct of any election. Subsection Two states that the name of any person so invited shall be published in the Gazette and he shall be issued with an identity card by the Chairman of the Elections Commission.
Section 4 (1) and (2) confer the rights of the observers. Subsection 1 states that “an observer may scrutinise the official list of electors, enter polling places and places appointed for the counting of votes, and seek information from the Chairman of the Elections Commission, the Chief Elections Officer and other election officers. Subsection 2 states that “An observer shall have the right to obtain from the Chairman of the Elections Commission, a copy of the official list of electors from one or more polling divisions and of any written law governing or regulating any election.” Finally, subsection 3 states that “The Chairman of the Elections Commission, the Chief Elections Officer and other election officers, shall comply with any reasonable request made by the observers in the performance of their functions.
The recent March 2 Regional and General Elections opened up Guyana’s democracy to intense international scrutiny. Under the microscope of the ABCE countries, The European Union, the Organisation of American States, CARICOM, the Commonwealth and The Carter Center. The local observation groups included the Guyana Public Service Union, Ebenezer Congregational Church Foundation, AMCHAM Guyana, Private Sector Commission, Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Canadian High Commission, Cuffy 250, The Bar Association, Transparency Institute Guyana, US Embassy, British High Commission, Ethnic Relations Commission and Youth Challenge Guyana. In total, there were 18 international and local observer groups who “observed” Guyana’s most hotly-contested elections.
As polls closed on Monday 2 March, the day seemed to have gone off rather successfully. There were no major reports of electors having any difficultly in being able to cast their votes at the 2339 polling stations in the 10 electoral districts in Guyana. Following the close of polls, there were a number of conferences convened by Observer Groups where they stated their opinion on what they had observed throughout the day. Their comments were largely in the positive and some brief recommendations for electronic voting and changes to electoral laws were made. Their preliminary conclusions, at that point, were that elections had gone well and were ‘free’ and ‘fair’.
By Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th March, counting and declaration had been completed in all Regions, save for Region Four, the most populous electoral district. After the invasion of the Guyana Elections Commission on the night and morning of those days, the subsequent declaration of the Region Four results on Thursday, March 5 by GECOM was blocked by an injunction filed by the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic. As proverbial and literal hell broke loose at GECOM, confusion began to spread and it was at that point that ill-timed, ill-informed and potentially incendiary comments were made by several observer groups.
As events continued to unfold at breakneck speed over the last week, there have been numerous press conferences, comments and statements issued by many observer groups. In general, there is a strong message being sent that Guyana must comply with its constitutional obligations to provide free, fair and credible elections. That being said, the privilege of being invited into our sovereign nation and being allowed to observe our internal processes is exactly that, a privilege. Without understanding the intricate complexities of Guyanese politics, one might easily do more harm than good when commenting on matters with which one is unfamiliar. Guyanese, more than anyone else involved, want the democratic process to be concluded and a duly-elected leader sworn in after a fair and transparent elections process.
Although Guyana is a young democracy, right-minded Guyanese are more than capable of creating and instituting laws, systems, processes and other reformative actions for the betterment of the system and the people of Guyana. Following the barrage of strongly-worded statements released by observer groups in recent days, Guyanese are now questioning whether their presence has actually helped or hindered us as we sought to exercise our democratic right and undertake our constitutional obligations. What’s more, the elevated status attributed to these groups by some local observer groups and citizens is most disappointing. It is frightening that some would allow the Guyanese narrative to be dictated by outside organisations and the ABCE band of nations who are already deeply involved in Guyana’s politics and who have their own vested interests in the manifestation of certain outcomes in Guyana.