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The Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) Order 60 of 2020 dated 4th and 29th May embarked, as stated in said Order, on a National Recount of all ten electoral districts in agreement with the President, Leader of the Opposition and all contesting political parties as “a means of assuaging the contesting parties and determining a final credible count.” This principal objective was noted in Paragraph 38 of the Judgement handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice on 8th July. This Order failed to achieve its declared intent.
It is of grave concern: –
i. GECOM has failed to ensure full compliance with said Order as expressly outlined in its intent and as evident in its actions. In so doing the Menu of Measures the body committed to Guyana and the political parties fell short of its intended purpose.
ii. One is likely to think, the Commission, which was responsible for drafting and gazetting the Order, knew from the outset a “credible count” which goes beyond a simple numerical count as outlined in the Order, is of import to all Guyanese. As a matter of fact, the goal to achieve a “credible count” was as a result of demand made by U.S Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on 20th March with an underlying threat stating the U.S wants “adherence to free, fair and credible electoral processes in Guyana.” On 16th March, President David Granger and PPP/C General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo heeded the call for “credible results” and signed an agreement for a National Recount.
iii. 1. b. of the Order declares “…the Commission shall … serve as the final arbiter of issues not resolved at lower levels in the established procedure.” This role was observed in the breach. There are reports counting agents could not seek resolution at the upper levels due to these officials not always being present or available. Further, the Chief Election Officer in his Report expressed concern about the absence of standardisation in the tabulating process.
iv. The final whereas in the Order outlines that, the Order, “…seeks to remove difficulties…relating to the conduct of the aforementioned recount …including reconciliation of the ballots issued with the ballots cast…; statistical anomalies; occurrences recorded in the Poll Book.” This was honoured in the breach.
It is herein noted, GECOM through its counting agents determine the validity of the votes after poll, and in the passage of the Order with a specific declared intent, the body sought to conduct a national recount to satisfy no less standard of rigour it trains returning officers and polling agents to apply in arriving at credible results. It stands to reason that one would expect the recount to produce no lesser a standard and no lesser credible results to those challenged in the contested Region Four declarations leading to a recount.
Though at the commission level there has been acknowledgement of “irregularities” during the recount exercise, and such was vocalised by the Chair, Justice Claudette Singh on 16th June, the commission failed to honour its Order to attend to same. Said Commission, surprisingly stated and much to the shock of Guyanese that such is not its purview to review but is instead that of a Court of law-the High Court-by way of an election petition.
This meant that a legal Order was used, perhaps intentionally to mislead Guyanese of GECOM’s intent (as outlined), which GECOM had no jurisdiction to preside over and therefore no intent nor ability to deliver on, and which served only to thwart justice and deliver an election results favourable to one side.
v. Further and again, in the instance of the final “whereas”, GECOM did not seek legal advice or seek to disregard same relating to the scope and permissibility of its intent as outlined in said Order. It is further recognised that this final “whereas” cannot be discarded because it is of equal import/weight to the Order and declared intention of GECOM. Said “whereas” expressly states, GECOM “…seeks to remove difficulties connected with the application of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03, in implementing its decisions relating to the conduct of the …recount….”
The acting Chief Justice in her recent ruling stated the recount supercedes the ten declarations. The argument proffered therefore is, if the recount supercedes the ten declarations then it should be subjected to no less rigour than the ten declarations were subjected to under the Representation of the People Act. That is, a physical and discriminatory count of all ballots that separate valid from invalid votes as occurred at the time of counting by the Presiding Officer and other polling agents after the poll.
A recount to supercede the original count cannot be inferior in substantive quality to the count and would not satisfy GECOM’s declared intent. The logic is, one cannot seek to correct something that is bad or wrong with something that is worse and of greater wrong. The recount is of no value insofar that it fails in “…assuaging the contesting parties and determining a final credible count.” It has proven to be of less value and not worthy of superceding that which came before.
I have said before, for democracy to stand GECOM cannot afford to fail. Guyanese have exercised tremendous patience throughout the election. The recount exercise, based on an Order written by a bipartisan commission, headed by a consensus Chair, has made matters worse and contributed to a mockery of justice, GECOM, presidential goodwill and the people of Guyana. A disease riddled election process, producing not just one bad outcome but a far worse second outcome are both disastrous foundations for peace and stability in Guyana.