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Ignoring the perceived absence of traditional protocol to engage in local political discussions whilst attending a diplomatic event, hosted by the European Union, the heated interaction between Messrs. Aubrey Norton and Bharrat Jagdeo was nevertheless illuminating. This is so not only because of the animation evident in the moment, the visibly ruffled disposition of the Vice President and his attempted deflection, but also because of what was actually said.
Both Messrs. Jagdeo and Norton are the leaders of their party, albeit the position carries different names. Both parties are Guyana’s two biggest political organisations and are here to stay irrespective of who thinks otherwise. Parties like the People’s National Congress (PNC) and People’s Progressive Party (PPP), though they stumble at times, cannot be easily wiped from the political landscape. Apart from being Guyana’s foundational mass-based parties, they are behemoth organisations with vast organising capacity and power and have been the major forces in government from pre-independence to now.
In the presence of others Mr. Norton raised with Mr. Jagdeo the issue of the National Recount and challenged him about the veracity of the declared results. Reportedly unearthed during the recount were 61 dead voters, 4,864 absent voters, 150 stuffed ballot boxes, and 47 ballot boxes without documents from the PPP’s stronghold on the East Coast Demerara. These are sufficient to raise concern about the credibility of the votes cast, counted and declared.
Mr. Jagdeo dived behind the alleged observation reports of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Carter Centre, et al, that the election was free and fair. What he studiously ignored, and Mr. Norton unfortunately failed to reinforce is that “free and fair elections ” was a very limited perspective that spoke to the process in terms of people being able to actually vote and the absence of overt conflict on E-Day; it didn’t address the skullduggery that was deep-seated in the elections and which were revealed only after forensic examination of every ballot box , every ballot found therein, and the content of each box.
Mr. Jagdeo’s deflection about the PNC showing their Statements of Poll (SOPs) should have been called out by Norton, there and then, for what it really was, that is – a drowning man clutching at straws and immaterial, because the only SOPs considered legal and of material effect are those of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). These are supposedly lodged at the Supreme Court Registry. That Mr. Norton failed to inform Mr. Jagdeo about the SOPs and recount as per ROPA is a missed opportunity and may well prove the costliness of carelessness.
Mr. Norton raised the issue with GECOM’s Order 60 of 2020. That Order outlined a menu of actions in “determining a final credible count” via the “…recount of all ballots cast at the said elections, including the reconciliation of the ballots issued with the ballots cast, destroyed, spoiled, stamped, and as deemed necessary, their counterfoils/stubs; authenticity of the ballots and the number of voters listed and crossed out as having voted; the number of votes cast without ID cards; the number of proxies issued and the number utilised; statistical anomalies; occurrences recorded in the Poll Book.”
Before the recount process was validated the electorate was thrown the deception that “a final credible count” meant actual numbers as tallied- a tally itself that was inconsistent- that is, not the valid votes arrived at after the adherence of the outlined credible process. That the Order was not fulfilled of equal consequence was Mr. Jagdeo’s weak effort to blame GECOM Commissioner Mr. Vincent Alexander, et al, whom he said, “were busy trying to subvert the process.” Basic reasoning would inform had Mr. Alexander’s view held sway GECOM would have followed the Order to completion. That didn’t happen.
GECOM appeared only too willing to abandon its own Order when it was almost completed, as presented in arguments to the court, and which interestingly the court accepted. The court’s acceptance of the incompleteness of a new legal order (60 of 2020) after the action (voting) was completed, on the premise that subsequently- via elections petitions- finality would be determined by the very court, people await the rulings.
It is also non-sequitur, unless a slip of the tongue by Mr. Jagdeo, to rhetorically ask Mr. Norton to “read the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03 (ROPA) on recount.” Said Act stipulates, if a recount was not permitted by the presiding officer, then only a court could authorise same and this is via an Election Petition. An election petition can only be done after the declaration of results. Mr. Norton did not recall or utilise the moment to hammer home this point and expose Mr. Jagdeo’s bluff and deceit.
Those months, Guyanese later learnt, were not unlike what happened in the 2019 Bolivia Election to remove President Evo Morales to please the Western powers. It was not dissimilar to U.S President Donald Trump’s efforts to prevent Congress from certifying the results of President Joe Biden’s victory. The U.S lawmakers and court did not crumble in spite of media and political propaganda, including those from Mr. Trump, et al.
The electorate and electoral body in Bolivia crumbled only to be informed, one year later, that the reputable academic giant Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Election Data and Science Lab research “concluded that it was ‘very likely’ the socialist president Morales won the October vote by the 10 percentage points needed to avoid a runoff.” In Guyana, it should come as no surprise if Mr. Jagdeo seeks refuge behind the sub judice argument not to rise to Mr. Norton’s challenge to debate him “in public with a proper moderator.”