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Commenting on the oral presentation of a forthcoming paper ‘The judiciary and the 2020 elections in Guyana’ by political scientists and team leaders of the Caricom recount process for those elections, Professor Cynthia Barrow-Giles and Dr Ronnie Yearwood, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, the Stabroek News (SN) editorial of 24 October 2021 made a two criticisms which caught my attention and may be of some public interest. The presenters also made some comments that should be of interest to political operatives and scholars, but those are better left until the paper is made public.
According to SN ‘Prof Barrow-Giles was of the view that it was Gecom which should have had an ‘overriding role to play in the developments that took place’ in the wake of the 2020 elections, but that it had been ‘sidelined.’’ The newspaper then stated: ‘That said, it might be remarked that under the current arrangements what matters is the resolve and fortitude of the Chairman, and under extreme pressure Justice Claudette Singh shied away from doing what was necessary at the very earliest stages of the crisis last year. As things stand it is not a post for the faint-hearted.’
The UWI presenters also questioned what they considered the overreliance of Guyanese politicians on the judiciary to solve political issues, and SN rightly suggested that the courts should have a role to play in Guyana’s political evolution. ‘One supposes that they are aware that some of the nation’s elections have been accompanied by considerable violence. [And] despite the fact that the official declaration of a result took so unconscionably long last year, the challenge only went on in the courts, not on the streets.’
In this context, the chairperson of GECOM took umbrage with SN’s criticism of her (SN:27/10/2021). She claimed that while the quote in my first paragraph is accurate, the SN editorial had ‘conveniently missed’ the fact ‘that on 5th March, 2020 (only three days after the elections), a mandatory injunction was granted by the Court against the Commission and Chief Election Officer which as a consequence impeded my intervention and by extension that of the Commission to implement a legally guided decision and approach to finalize the electoral process.’
An editorial comment on the chair’s response claimed that. ‘The editorial would have been referring particularly to events earlier on March 5th, prior to the granting of the mandatory injunction, when the District 4 Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo scandalously and scurrilously declared a rigged result for Region Four and questions were raised in many quarters as to why the GECOM Chair failed to intervene to prevent this abomination’.
The elections were held on 2nd March 2020 and controversy arose about the Region 4 results on about 4th March, and according to SN, there was ‘an agreement between the PPP/C and GECOM for a further verification following a dispute over the authenticity of data that was being inputted’. However, before this process was completed, on 5th March, Mingo attempted to declare the Region 4 results and the above mentioned injunction was granted on the same day. Having recognised that controversies that could end on the streets are normal in Guyana’s elections process, how could one reasonably chide the chairperson for giving a few hours for an amicable solution to develop, particularly when it is not unusual for three/four days to elapse before elections results are declared?
What is shocking to me is that although international best practices recommended that GECOM should have the authority to do all that is necessary to ensure a free and fair elections process and the Constitution and the law – section 22 of Guyana’s Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2000 – exist for it to do so, the chairperson began but stymied the process that would have delivered a more creditable result. Indeed, in an article entitled ‘Manufacturing majorities’ (SN:18/06/2020), I said that ‘From the moment GECOM called on the police to investigate allegations of migrants and dead persons voting, I saw three possible outcomes to the current elections dispute: (1) the evidence presented to the Commission did not taint the majority of votes in the boxes going to the party that won the majority, so the PPP/C has won; (2) the Commission finds it impossible to declare a winner given the weight of the ‘evidence’, so the elections are annulled, and (3) having been able to separate tainted from untainted ballots, the majority in the boxes cannot be sustained, so the Coalition has won’ .
Whatever you may think of Mingo’s actions, his intervention help to bring to light the electoral fraud – which the chairperson herself admits may well exist – that presently underpins Guyana’s elections process. For me, the abomination rests in the fact that she did not complete the process she began and thus attempt to usher in a better future for Guyana.