Jagdeo questions Norton’s readiness for LGEs
Vice-President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo
Vice-President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo

— says PPP/C supports use of biometrics but not as voting requirement

Vice-President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo has affirmed that the government is ready to name a date for Local Government Elections (LGEs) once given the requisite notification from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) that the elections body is ready to move ahead with the holding of the elections.

With GECOM Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh noting earlier this week that it is highly likely that LGEs will be held by the end of 2022, Dr. Jagdeo, who is also the General-Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), said that his party is already in election mode.

Addressing the matter during a press conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) on Friday, Dr. Jagdeo said: “We are ready whether elections are held this year or next year, we would be ready at any time. GECOM would have to write indicating when they are ready. But I speak for the PPP as the General-Secretary, and I’ve already convened a meeting. We’ve started working on our organisational structures around the country. We’ve put our party on a readiness mode.”

A date for the LGEs is officially announced by the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development following official correspondence from GECOM on when it would be ready to carry out the elections.
The Vice-President refuted claims by the Leader of the Opposition (LoO) and Leader of the People’s National Congress/Reform (PNCR), Aubrey Norton, that the government will not hold the elections.
“He [Norton] says PPP doesn’t want Local Government Elections, but we have already gone on an election footing,” Dr. Jagdeo said.

Dr. Jagdeo instead challenged the Opposition’s readiness for elections given ultimatums declared by Norton that his party is demanding before they participate in elections. Chief among Norton’s demand is the continuous call for changes to the voters’ list, in contravention to a ruling by the High Court that outlines how changes can be made to the voters’ list.

Dr. Jagdeo during the press conference reiterated his party’s position that what Norton is calling for infringes on the laws, and therefore could not be supported.
“The question of the new [voters] list has been addressed several times…  it would be unconstitutional to remove people’s names from the voters list given the ruling of the Chief Justice and the Constitution itself. So, in the PPP/C we are not going to support any process that is unconstitutional. We are not going to be complicit with the PNC in this issue,” Dr. Jagdeo affirmed.

In 2019, the High Court ruled that “the removal of the names of persons on the list of registrants, and who were not, or have not been, or are not registered in the current house-to-house registration exercise would be unconstitutional.”

Hence, GECOM is barred from removing the names of anyone from the NRR, from which the Official List of Electors (OLE) is made, except in the case of death. Norton has continually pressed for changes to the voters list, particularly the removal of names, but cannot answer for how exactly his party expects this to happen.

Norton claimed that the country’s voters list is too high when compared to the population size.
“He said that Guyana has the highest ratio of voters to population on the voters list in the world. Many Caribbean countries have a higher ratio of people on the voters list to total population. He thinks he can bully his way into having us do something unconstitutional.”

In Trinidad and Tobago with a population of 1,208,789, there are 1,134,135 eligible voters. In St Kitts and Nevis, there were 50, 933 eligible voters and a total population of 53, 192 persons.
During the press conference, Dr. Jagdeo also addressed the issue of continuous calls by Opposition-aligned Commissioners of the GECOM for the inclusion of the use of biometrics in the voting process, dismissing it as another case of the Opposition pushing for something unconstitutional

Dr. Jagdeo noted that while he supports the use of biometrics to increase transparency, it cannot be included as a requirement for voting, as this too will contravene provisions of the Constitution.
“We support the use of biometrics to improve polling day controls. However, we will not support the use of biometrics as a restriction on people’s rights to vote. Whilst we don’t have a problem with strengthen polling day control, which is crucial, the use of biometrics should not prevent people from voting.”

Dr. Jagdeo pointed out that a change of the law to include a biometrics requirement could lead to a court challenge of election results, similar to the 1998 case that was brought by PNC/R supporter, Esther Perreira, against GECOM challenging amendments that were initially agreed to by the PNC/R.

Perreira, in 1998, brought an elections petition challenging the outcome of the 1997 elections. The PNC/R had lost the elections. In a ruling on the matter in 2001, Justice Singh declared that the elections law amendment act No. 22 of 1997 is ultra vires Articles 59 and 159 of the Guyana Constitution and as a consequence the said act was null and void.

Hence, the judge ruled that the 1997 elections were not conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) and articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution of Guyana. New elections were held that year, which the PPP/C once again won.

Dr. Jagdeo noted that the call for legislation on a requirement for biometrics is a tactic being used by the Opposition to be able to challenge future elections when they lose.
“Should we go to the Parliament, pass a law on biometrics to prevent people from voting and then they [the Opposition] lose the elections they can go back to court again using the same challenge that they did in 1997 [case] that the use of biometrics was unconstitutional; we are not going to fall into that trap again,” Dr. Jagdeo explained..

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