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Monday the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) used its parliamentary majority to pass a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act (ROPA). The Bill, once assented to by President Irfaan Ali, will become law and see removal of residency requirement to be on the Voters List which has been a feature for more than quarter-a-century.
Appearing on David Hinds’ Politics 101 programme, former Minister of Public Security, Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC) and Member of Parliament (MP), Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan was asked to weigh in on the matter.
Ramjattan said the change is “extraordinarily dangerous,” pointing out that as a former minister with responsibility for security, he speaks from an understanding that the amendment could cause serious problems in society.
The AFC leader said he was part of the PPP in the 1990s who fought for the requirement. According to him, Dr. Cheddie Jagan, Clement Rohee and others fought to ensure there was no voter impersonation and a clean voters list. He insisted the requirement was not to disenfranchise those who may be abroad at registration time but to prevent voter impersonation.
Then President Desmond Hoyte SC; Opposition Leader, Jagan; the Carter Centre and others, Ramjattan said, agreed to purify the list by doing a new house-to-house exercise. At the time he said the list was considered bloated, the PPP and others were expressing concerns about rigged elections. Ramjatan said back then the list was bloated by 85,000 compared to the present list which is bloated by more than 200,000 names.
Zeroing in on the 2020 National Recount, the MP said in hindsight it was very helpful, because among other things it showed more than 4000 persons voted in the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections who were not supposed to vote. These persons were said to be either deceased or not present in the jurisdiction on election day.
Making an appeal for society and the ABCE diplomatic community to learn from history, Ramjattan said the nation could also learn from the 2020 Election with the protest in Bath Settlement, West Coast Berbice, that erupted in violence, after residents felt they were being cheated. Persons passing through the artery were attacked, vehicles damaged, police injured, and a protester was shot and later died at the hospital.
Expressing concern that half the population will not accept GECOM and the PPP seeking to corrupt the electoral process, the MP has called on these organisations to “get their bloody act together.”
According to the AFC leader, who is an attorney-at-law by profession, now that the law allows for election officials to be charged and jailed for failing to comply, if officials don’t change course he will bring private criminal charges to get them locked up.
“A bloated voters list creates the foundation for impersonation” warned Ramjattan.
He reminded Hinds of the role the Working People’s Alliance- which Hinds is a member- and him (a former PPP member) played to ensure residency requirements. Ramjattan said that led to house-to-house registration every eight years where GECOM gets the opportunity to match names with persons residing at their address. And whereas such a process was not 100 per cent pure he said it guaranteed a workable purity of the list. “The PPP/C will remove this.”
Touching on the issue of the court ruling residency is not a legal requirement, the attorney said even if it is not, the government has a moral requirement to ensure what Guyana fought for years ago if implicit in the law to make it explicit.
Removal of names from the list is not unconstitutional, Ramjattan contended. What the exercise does is remove persons who can vote more than once. And if for any reason persons are out of the jurisdiction during registration exercise when they return they can visit GECOM’s office and get their names back on the list. According to the AFC leader, whilst the PPP talks about democracy, the party is removing the fundamentals of an election which is a proper voters list.
Accusing the PPP/C of having “motives” to rig the elections, fully aware “the list is rotten,” the MP said the party will engage in voter impersonation and persons who live abroad and got registered the PPP/C can fly them in to vote when they are not resident in Guyana.
“It is important to get the politics right,” cautioned Ramjattan even as he called on the business community, diplomatic community, and other stakeholders, including supporters of the coalition, to stop being on the sideline and speak out on the issue, if not handled properly can lead to dire consequences.