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Guyanese were advised, through the United States (U.S) Embassy here, that the U.S will be providing support to Guyana for electoral reform. It was subsequently made known that the conservative-leaning, International Republican Institute (IRI) is identified to provide this support and that such support will be given to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and Attorney General’s Chambers.
Guyana has had a long relationship with the U.S in electoral assistance in order to ensure a Voters list, eligible Guyanese enjoy the right to vote, the votes are correctly tallied and results are correctly declared consistent with the Constitution and Laws of Guyana. Historically, this has been a process that had the support of the general public as represented in the involvement of the President and Leader of the Opposition. The establishment and configuration of GECOM Commissioners stands as evidence of that.
But everything has context and content, time and place. Whilst in the past U.S external assistance was sought and with the support of both Opposition and Government sides, in recent times this has not been so. This is not good for Guyana’s fledgling democracy nor for generating confidence in the electoral system by most, if not, all Guyanese. If Guyana has learnt anything in recent times about our Election and whether the system could be compromised and laws disregarded it was in 2020.
What results from those ballot boxes, including GECOM’s own admission of grave irregularities and inability to vouch for the validity of all the ballots, which nonetheless were used to declare the results, point to a serious electoral problem. Also, without exception, all external Observers Mission noted in their Report that the Voters List is bloated and recommended this be corrected. Guyana not only needs strong enforcement and respect for electoral laws, but needs a new, credible Voters List, eligible voters voting, and Election Day staff doing their work in strict compliance with the law.
It is not known if the IRI is here to help Guyana with that. What is also not clear and unacceptable is the manner in which this 18-month project is to be executed. It is a shame GECOM has not approached this electoral reform and the IRI’s role with respect for established protocols and the Opposition-appointed Commissioners had cause to go public and identify this.
GECOM Chairwoman, Justice Claudette Singh, cannot ignore it is under her leadership the Commission continues to act in manner never seen before, including being more divisive and rancorous. This is not what the Commission was intended or established to be and when policy makers continue to function like this it does Justice Singh’s image and management style no good.
Further to the IRI being here, the U.S has its own problems with Republican-led states and legislatures and Republicans in the U.S Senate and House working assiduously to erode voting rights and making it more difficult for minorities to vote. The recent voter restriction bill signed into law by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp was described by President Joe Biden as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “a blatant attack on the Constitution.” Former President Donald Trump said the law was “too weak”.
Guyana must decide if it wants to engage in any electoral reform that would suppress the vote and disregard fair electoral laws. Guyana must decide if the right to vote will be protected as per the Constitution of Guyana, eligible voters are able to cast their votes consistent with the laws and these votes be duly tallied and declared. Guyana must decide if in the 21st century it wants to follow the U.S Republican playbook, if it wants to know what that playbook intends to do and who it stands to benefit, and whether Guyanese should accept it. Guyana is depending on the Commissioners in GECOM, the Opposition, Government, trade unions, civil society and other interested stakeholders to protect the sacred right to vote.