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The electoral reform process must be driven by the people and while international best practices must be given consideration, implementation of those practices must also take into consideration the particular circumstances of the society. That was a key recommendation issued by Jamaican Consultant on Elections, Orrette Fisher, when the International Republican Institute (IRI) in collaboration with the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) hosted a Roundtable Discussion on Electoral Reform for representatives of the Trades Union Movement on Thursday October 27, 2022 at Critchlow Labour College.
Among resource persons at the forum were Resident Programme Director of the IRI Dorota Ryzy, Electoral Policy & Administration Practitioner Sarah Bharrat of the IRI, GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis and General President of the General Workers’ Union (GWU) Norris Witter.
Former Head of the Jamaica Elections Commission Orrette Fisher, a man of vast experience in elections management, addressed the forum virtually and remained on screen for the duration of the roundtable. He suggested that the current high interest in elections and the electoral system in Guyana was sparked by the debacle surrounding the 2020 Regional & General Elections and while it is crucial to have a properly functioning Elections Commission, the burning question is how to approach that task.
Fisher said it is crucial to generate wide-spread confidence in the electoral process and that public education and reform must be continuous; an ongoing process that must be on the national agenda not only at elections time. He thinks that Guyanese must be prepared to accept technological inputs in the elections process.
Fisher also suggested, among other recommendations, an updated employment policy at the Guyana Elections Commission and a review of the selection of Polling Station Workers that would reflect ethnic balance.
GWU General President Norris Witter -lately a member of the Ethnic Relations Commission- focused his remarks on the Origin and Evolution of Guyana’s Ethnopolitical Problems, aspects of which resonated throughout the discussions. He directed attention to the split of the founding political party in 1955 which threw the entire country into an ethnic tailspin from which the Guyanese society is finding it difficult to recover.
In suggesting remedies for the challenges at hand, Witter expressed the view that the constant victims of the negative political situation are the workers, and that it will be the very workers who must truly unite to force the necessary changes that will reflect the will of all the people.
GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis suggested the inclusion of Election Commissioners selected from civil society with the approval of parliamentary parties as a means of inspiring more public confidence in the operation of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Participants expressed a high degree of distrust in the credibility of the electoral system. They also lamented the ethnic problems associated with elections in Guyana. Some participants suggested wide ranging constitutional changes that will create a leveler playing field with respect to the distribution of wealth and opportunities in Guyana.
The IRI and the GTUC have lately been collaborating to shed light on several matters of interest to workers by way of discussion sessions at the CLC, including the Oil & Gas Sector.