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While the news of Mr. Vishnu Persaud’s appointment as the Chief Election Officer at GECOM comes as no surprise to those who have been following the happenings at that agency, it nevertheless raises serious questions about the country’s immediate political future. That the Chairperson yet again voted with the PPP commissioners on this very controversial appointment suggests that GECOM has for all intents and purposes become an arm of the ruling party. From the decision to award the 2020 election to the PPP in the face of widespread evidence of malpractice unearthed by the Recount to the removal of the CEO and Deputy CEO from their positions to the refusal to depoliticize the process by which their replacements were hired, the chairperson has been a solid ally of the PPP commissioners. As far as her votes are concerned.
This is most disappointing. Our understanding is that the role of the chair in an overtly partisan commission should be one of compromise. At least this is how the previous Chair reportedly approached his job. Why has the current chair not followed that approach is anybody’s guess. It is ironic that while she has not followed his approach, she cited his recommendation of Mr. Persaud as one of the reasons for her recent vote. This publication is not in the business of attributing partisan motives to public servants who serve in politically sensitive positions. But we find it difficult to answer those who make such charges against the chair of GECOM. She may have compelling reasons for her vote, but she is yet to articulate them.
Guyana is one of the most ethno-politically divided countries in the world. This division is most manifested in the political arena. The country’s electoral outcomes have seldom enjoyed cross-ethnic support. In this regard, GECOM has been the most vilified institutions in the country. The current chair herself was appointed to the position in charged conditions. One would think that she would try her best to bring to the job a sense of impartiality that would serve as a check on the perception and reality of hyper partisanship at GECOM. One must conclude that she has failed miserably in that regard.
It is not surprising that Opposition leader, Joseph Harmon lost no time in denouncing her vote and suggest that the Coalition has lost confidence in Madam Chair. One can understand his frustration. After all, it was his government that appointed her. But beyond that the PPP’s script which her votes have wittingly or unwittingly facilitated is far too obvious. That party declared that it is not prepared to contest another election overseen by the staff that presided over the 2020 election. Upon taking office it immediately dragged the senior staff before the courts. It then moved to dismiss them from the commission—and the Chair aided this process. When given the opportunity to de-politicise the interviewing architecture in favour of an independent panel, she stood in opposition with the PPP. She even joined the PPP commissioners in voting down a compromise proposal to have a hybrid panel.
It is our view that she lost a golden opportunity to point GECOM in another direction. There is a strong perception that Vishnu Persaud is partial to the PPP. That in itself should have been a red flag. Why has the chair allowed herself to be dragged into endorsing him? Now the deed is done. Another nail in the coffin of an impartial GECOM. By her votes, the Chair has given the PPP what it demanded. What happens from here on is anybody’s guess. But the signs are not encouraging