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Like 62% of Guyanese people’s feeling about general elections in general, I could not say with any certainty that the results of the 2020 national and regional elections reflected the will of the people. Indeed, I am fairly certain that they did not, and that this is largely the result of the political parties creating, maintaining and taking advantage of bloated electoral lists.
Recently, Stabroek News, commenting on Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo’s proposal for cleaning the current electoral list, accepted that ‘A list of electors of some 661,000 from a population of approximately 748,000 (2012 census was 747,884) is weird maths indeed and its inaccuracy has been noted and well ventilated. More likely, the 480,000-odd votes cast in 2020 were closer to the valid number of electors. The way forward is fixing this well before 2025 and doing so in a manner that is so transparent no one would be able to honestly cry foul’ (SN: 01/05/2022)
The paper also noted that having received a ‘substantive’ number of comments from GECOM and one other civil society organisations, the VP Jagdeo proposed making the registration process transparent by way of legislation that would force GECOM and the Chief Elections Officer to annually remove the names of electors who had died and publish both the names of those removed as well as the voters’ list in the newspapers. The paper appeared to believe that if completed exactly as stated, transparency in the process is likely to be ensured.
More or less in keeping with international best practices, somewhat like the SN article, this column has repeatedly argued that since elections rules remove and bring parties to government, they must be transparently made by the representatives of substantially all of us: the process cannot be left to the wiles of any single political party. Stalemate and negotiations are preferred to self-serving miniscule majoritarian laws. The European Union’s Elections Observation Mission made a similar point when it recommended that Guyana undertake ‘a thorough update of the decade-old register well ahead of the next election cycle, based on inclusive consultations and political consensus.’
Having provided an overarching façade of national consultation, the PPP is attempting to treat this reform process as it unfortunately treats ordinary legislation: it has already determined what the problems and the solutions are and is now ‘hopeful the opposition will participate in the process once the bill is laid in the National Assembly.’ The farcical nature of this process has been exposed when VP Jagdeo’s attempt to win public support by avoiding the main issue. When, his attempt to latch on to and sell a relatively noncontroversial issue as the main concern is confronted by the claim that that problem of removing deceased persons from the list has already been solved in a more comprehensive manner by those whose job it should be to solve such matters!
Thus, Opposition Commissioner Mr. Vincent Alexander has indicated that contrary to the VP’s claim, ‘GECOM has had no discussion on the substance of any reform and therefore it cannot be claimed that any submission is a product of the Commission.’ (SN: 06/05/2022). Worse still, Mr. Alexander has suggested that the VP’s proposal may well be redundant. ‘Any attempt to resolve a problem has to be based on the identification of the problem and the provision of solutions to eradicate the problem. Jagdeo`s proposal does neither of the two, and GECOM totally refuses to determine if there is such problem, although all of the stakeholders up to budget 2019 gave their support to a process that recognized, and could have resolved the problem’ (SN: o6/05/2022).
Of course, the VP is yet to touch upon the more problematical issue. The EU report showed little confidence in the continuous registration process and called for ‘a thorough update of the decade-old register well ahead of the next election cycle.’ It stated that ‘Guyana’s high emigration rate may be the most significant factor accounting for an ‘inflated’ list.’ The Caricom Observer Team that did the recount added its voice to this chorus. ‘As a minimum condition of electoral reform, the Team recommends the urgent need for the total re-registration of all voters in Guyana. It is clear that given the state of the voter registration of the country that Guyana was not adequately prepared for the 2020 poll. … It therefore behooves the Commission to create a new voter registry especially given the suspicion that the 2020 register was bloated, a suspicion which is not without merit.’
For obvious reasons, à la the 2020 recount exposé, the PPP wants nothing to do with re-registration and so apart from the numerous migrants who are illegally participating in Guyana’s elections, as Alexander noted, the party cannot even provide an effective solution for removing those migrants who are dead from the list! I am the strongest supporter of diaspora involvement in Guyana’s affairs but when, as under Forbes Burnham’s PNC, it became clear that the manipulation of its votes was being used to undermine the development of the democratic process in Guyana, it must be curtailed until a sensible system is in place.
Talk about voter suppression is opportunistic and reactionary: it seeks to hold back the natural development of an accountable political system. For obvious reasons, in the 1990s the PNC did not like the change and for similar reasons the PPP does not like it now, but if properly organised and focused; change will come.