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Ghana with a population of some 25 million is considered one of sub-Saharan Africa’s democratic success stories. A former British colony like Guyana, it has a competitive, stable two-party system in which the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress that have since 1992 alternated in government and have roughly equal support, controlled the vast majority (95%) of the votes and 271 of the 275 parliamentary constituencies in 2012.
‘Despite two decades of election observation, fraud was known to have occurred regularly in elections in Ghana. Perhaps thanks to the very effectiveness of election observation during the voting process, fraud appears to have been especially marked in the pre-election phase, which (was) less extensively monitored. … Implausibly large numbers of names appeared on the voter rolls … and spillover effects, i.e. political party operatives were relocating fraudulent voter registration efforts to nearby polling stations when … observer(s) were present during the registration process, … suggest that party operatives are experienced in reacting strategically to monitoring intended to reduce fraud in the electoral process.’
‘Biometric voter registration and polling place identification processes were introduced by the Electoral Commission for the concurrent parliamentary and presidential elections of 2012. … The entire electorate was reregistered using biometric markers (ten fingerprints) in a six-week period in spring 2012. New voter identification cards were issued featuring head shots. Reregistration was effective in identifying 8,000 double registrations, of which 6,000 were judged intentional. Verification machines were delivered to all 26,000 polling stations. … The EC also purchased another 7,500 backup machines for use in the event of equipment failure. Because the equipment is battery-operated, spare batteries accompanied each machine. Legal stipulations meant that only persons whose identities could be verified biometrically would be permitted to vote.’(http://cpd.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/golden-rev-submitted.pdf).
The authors concluded that ‘(T)here is no technical fix to election fraud’ but biometric identification machines do reduce elections fraud and elections are too important and nationally divisive for Guyana not to be able to achieve in 2021 for about ¾ million people what Ghana did in 2012 for 25 million. According to the recent poll by the International Republican Institute, only 22% of respondents said ‘definitely yes’ when asked if the declared official election results reflect the will of the people. Is this not sufficiently scandalous for all those who proclaim themselves democrats to support such mechanisms and resources that will improve the situation? This is particularly important where governments with miniscule majorities take it upon themselves to unilaterally spend most of the country’s resources and there is a substantial belief that they do so in an ethnically discriminatory manner!
The Ghanaian case also bolsters the commonplace position that because elections are certified by observers it does not means that there was not significant fraudulent behaviour. The case indicates too that the most successful rigging takes place in the pre-elections phase. In 2020, someone who had left Guyana for Barbados as a child wrote to the Guyana Chronicle complaining that he was registered to vote in Guyana. Statements of polls (SOPs) do not necessarily tell the full story and a truer picture will emerge when the number of discrepancies that were discovered during that 2020 process are properly investigated. After all, it was the chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission who stated that they were sufficiently serious to warrant legal examination by the courts. but two years on, this has not been done.
From the Ghana example we know that given human nature, a bloated electoral list must logically be of some concern. Not surprising then, after observing that ‘The 2020 OLE (official list of electors) contained 660,998 names, well above the estimated resident adult population of half a million’, and that the so-called ‘continuous’ registration system does not work well, the European Union 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.’ The Caricom Observer Team followed suit: ‘As a minimum condition of electoral reform, the Team recommends the urgent need for the total re-registration of all voters in Guyana. … 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.’
Guyanese do not need the Ghanaian case to tell them that party operatives are skilled in bypassing observers, avoiding scrutiny and getting fake votes in the ballot boxes. ‘Once there is the will there is a way’ and over the decades the ethnic nature of Guyana’s politics has been towards political dominance and thus a surfeit of ‘will’. Ironically, the logical trajectory of historical transformation suggests an existential aspect to this story that the propagandists tend to overlook.
The PNC manipulated elections and got away with it in a context of geopolitical conflict, but once that conflict was over so was its reign. Understandably, not wanting to take some responsibility for its communist ideological contribution to the then political context, the PPP quite successfully sold the situation as largely ethnically driven by PNC/African racism. This is an extremely questionable position, for the record shows that Forbes Burnham made multiple efforts to reach a rapprochement with the PPP. However, demographic developments and the evidence thrown up by the 2020 elections suggest that the PPP is losing its natural ethnic majority, but instead of seeking accommodation with the opposition, it tries to entrench its ethnic dominance by manipulating elections to prevent Guyana’s natural progression towards a more accommodative multiethnic state. Thus the question can be legitimately asked: who is the racist now?
Although biometric identification machines do reduce elections fraud the ‘biometric technology is susceptible to manipulation, especially in an initial large scale rollout and even in a genuinely competitive democracy. Where the overall legal and political environment is sufficiently relaxed, ‘political party operatives apparently feel free to take advantage of unmonitored voting to tamper with new and imperfectly designed equipment’(http://cpd.berkeley op. cit.).
If the political situation is to naturally become accommodative, every effort must be made to stymie the inclinations of the political parties to rig elections. Biometrics and any other new technologies must not be dismissed on flimsy self-serving argumentations. However, whatever is done, the parties will still find ample space to cry foul: the perennial task is to make that space progressively smaller.