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The United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner, Ms. Jane Miller, in an interview with Demerara Waves last Saturday, said the existing voters list “is good enough… we just need to make sure that there are those mechanisms in place to make sure it is regularly updated and verified, [and] there are mechanisms in place on the day of voting to make sure that people are turning up only once and that they have identification that is on that list.”
The main parliamentary opposition, A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), Opposition-nominated Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and civil society have repeatedly called for a new voters list and modernised biometrics to eliminate voter impersonation. A survey by the United States-based International Republican Institute found 81% of Guyanese feel electoral reforms are necessary.
In 2015 the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, made similar demands but since the party returned to government in 2020 its leadership has gone silent. Government-nominated commissioners at GECOM have supported or managed to get the support of the Chairperson Justice Claudette Singh to reject reform recommendations from the Opposition commissioners.
Observers to the 2020 General and Regional Elections have criticised the List and recommended measures be put in place to achieve a list reflective of Guyana’s voting population. Earlier this year GECOM said the organisation is constrained from making changes based on the 2019 High Court’s ruling. However, shadow minister of legal affairs, Mr. Roysdale Forde, SC, is not accepting the explanation. According to him it is GECOM’s constitutional duty “to come up with a mechanism to ensure in respect of persons who cannot be taken off the list, that they put in place sufficient mechanisms to ensure or reduce the risk of multiple and substitution voting.”
The High Commissioner, stepping into Guyana’s internal affairs and ignoring numerous concerns expressed by Guyanese and observers said, “anywhere in the world you got to make sure your voters list is regularly updated and that is what’s happening here so always the people who have died and people who moved out the country or whatever, you need to make sure it’s regularly updated and that’s the most important thing.”
But the reality is Guyana is different, rather unique, as evidenced by the Preliminary List of Electors (PLE), declared Forde. Pointing out the population is approximately 750,000 and the PLE has approximately 680,000 names, Forde said he would like to believe, at this stage, the high commissioner has not acquainted herself with these figures. “With that population no society can have a voter’s registry this large. This could only happen in a society that is dying and its citizens not reproducing, or in a society that facilitates a bloated list.”
Responding to the high commissioner’s statement that the list “is good enough” and the UK, United States, Canada and European Union all want to see the voters list is properly updated and that “there are mechanisms in place” to ensure those voting “are turning up only once and …they have identification that is on that list,” the shadow minister told this publication he wants to know how that assurance was arrived at.
According to him, the Opposition that comprises half the society and large sections of civil society are dissatisfied with the list, which is a similar view expressed by observers to the 2015 and 2020 Elections. “I am sure Her Excellency would have been au fait with these realities, if not directly, at least briefed by her predecessor, given the UK’s ubiquitous presence and involvement during the 2020 Election cycle and in the aftermath.”
Her Excellency, I am sure would have also read the observers’ report, so the sanctity of the list and mechanism to ensure absence of voter impersonation, which have not changed from 2020, she would not be unaware of, he said.
Going further, the shadow minister told this publication, even if Her Excellency were unaware, her residency in Guyana has presented her a front row seat to acquaint herself with, including the weekly protests at GECOM’s headquarters. “I do not, at this stage, want to think Her Excellency is oblivious to the prevailing factors that have occasioned public clamour for reform.”
According to the member of parliament “this list is bloated and has been criticised by all and sundry. To ask Guyanese to accept a list that cannot guarantee free, fair and credible elections, whilst these may not be of concern to some or they may find reason (s) to accept a corrupt list expedient to their national interest, the national interest of Guyanese must be foremost.”
Guyanese have a right to free, fair and credible elections, the shadow minister asserted. A credible list and improved biometrics are important to the process; a process we must agitate for and correct internally, and if possible with the support of external allies that share common values, but the achievement of these must not be outsourced for others to determine, he declared.