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Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde – an Opposition Member of Parliament in the National Assembly – said the proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act, which seek to carve District 4 (Demerara-Mahaica) into 4 sub-districts, will result in an unequal electoral system.
“The creation of sub-districts only for and in District 4 whilst leaving other districts untouched, particularly Districts 2, 3, 5 and 6 represents the creation of an unequal electoral process and system,” Forde told the Village Voice Newspaper.
In defending Government’s proposal to create sub-districts – East Bank Demerara, North Georgetown, South Georgetown and East Coast Demerara – under Section 6A (1) of the Representation of the People Act, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall said it is in response to the challenges that arose during the tabulation of the Statements of Poll (SOPs) within the country’s largest voting bloc during the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
The process, from the initial stage of tabulating the SOPs to the conduct of a National Recount, was marred by widespread allegations of electoral fraud but the Senior Counsel said those challenges were not limited to District 4 alone.
“In Districts 2, 3, 5 and 6 the Returning Officers engaged in processes which were not transparent and the basis for the declaration of results were unknown,” the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament said.
He contended that the creation and demarcation of sub-districts for District 4 without the participation of APNU+AFC is another manifestation of the dictatorial conduct of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration.
“We will not accept differing electoral processes and systems throughout the country,” Senior Counsel Forde said as he put the Government on notice.
Overall, he said the amendments fail to address the real issues of electoral fraud revealed during the Recount – a position also held by Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon.
It was pointed out that the proposed legislation fails to deal with the issues of multiple voting; voter impersonation; the improper use of certificate of employment and oaths of identity; measures to prevent ballot boxes being counted and processed without statutory documents; the residence requirement; the creation of a new official List of Electors; management of the registration database; and the powers of the elections commission.
“The legislation whilst creating a number of new offences and imposing draconian penalties, the legislation is silent on sanctions for presiding officers and other electoral staff who permit, allow and encourage multiple voting; voter impersonation; and the improper use of certificate of employment and oaths of identity,” the Senior Counsel said.
During a news conference last week the Opposition Leader said his Office just recently received the proposed amendments from the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, and is currently in the process of analysing them.
Once completely analysed, the Opposition will present a bull blown report on the amendments, however, Harmon said there are some preliminary issues that ought to be addressed.
Describing the proposed amendments as “atrocious,” the Opposition Leader told the press that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration has engaged in a “wishy washy” exercise which fails to address critical issues within Guyana’s electoral system. He too expressed concern that the move to spilt District 4 into sub-districts, while leaving other regions untouched, will only result in an unequal electoral system.
In a recent interview with Village Voice News, Deputy Speaker and Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), Lenox Shuman, MP, said while he is still in the process of assessing the proposed legislation, on the face of it, he is concerned that the proposed amendments have failed to address key issues raised by the international observers from the Carter Center, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the European Union (EU) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) among others.
“Until we have constitutional reform and the reformation of the [Guyana Elections] Commission it doesn’t matter what we do at the Commission level,” he opined, while emphasizing that electoral reform cannot be done in isolation of constitutional reform.
The Deputy Speaker is also objecting to the proposed amendments to create sub-districts within Region Four. “That in itself is the genesis of gerrymandering, where they are going to pick out pockets, and before you know it, eventually they are going to want to gerrymander the entire country. I don’t agree with that,” he told this newspaper.
Meanwhile, Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram, while appearing on Politics 101 – an online programme hosted by Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds, said the proposed amendments leave much to be desired.
“I am extremely disappointed to the point of being angry at the amendments being proposed,” he told Dr. Hinds.
Ram, who is also a political analyst, said the amendments seem to tackle issues that engulfed the former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield and Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo during the highly controversial 2020 General and Regional Elections.
“It is not even picking the low hanging fruits. We have not touched on the critical issues dealing with elections. Where is campaign financing? Absent. Where is constituency elections? Absent,” Ram said while noting too that the amendments, as a whole, have not addressed the “dysfunctional elections commission.”
“It is a poorly conceived set of amendments to the electoral, constitutional and statutory arrangements for elections in Guyana,” he said.
Like Shuman, Ram said the electoral problems, in large measure, are linked to the composition of the Elections Commission, and until that is addressed, the system will continue to be dysfunctional.
“Now if these two parties are serious, they could alter that by a simple two-thirds, when I say simple two-thirds, they don’t need a referendum to do that,” he posited.
In light of the widespread criticism, the Attorney General has said that amendments are statutory and not constitutional.