Another GECOM let down

Introduction
Once again, the role of GECOM in the determination and publication of the results of national and regional elections as well as its general functions have been highlighted. GECOM as it exists today is the product of the efforts to address widespread concerns that elections prior to 1992 were not free and fair. A limited reform process resulted in the 1992 elections being conducted under a seven-person Commission made up of three members named by the Government, three by the Opposition, and the Chairman selected by the President from a list of six names submitted by the Leader of the Opposition is often referred to as the [President] Carter formula.

While politically the formula was considered acceptable since both “sides” of the divide felt represented in the process, it was intended to be a temporary arrangement to be reviewed for subsequent elections. Inertia set in and the formula has remained unchanged for all five elections since 1992. It should not continue.
Continue reading Another GECOM let down

Mr Nawbatt’s campaigning an abuse of state resources

There were credible reports that on Elections Day 2011 Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett was out campaigning for the PPP/C in the hinterland Amerindian communities. If that was not a violation of the Representation of the People Act it came very close.

It seems that Ms. Rodrigues-Birkett is at it again this year and has brought in the Guyana High Commissioner to Canada Mr. Harry Nawbatt to campaign with her in those communities, exploiting his work as a Contract Employee with SIMAP some years ago. (See Stabroek News May 9, 2015 `Envoy to Canada campaigning for PPP/C in Rupununi’). This is particularly troubling not least because Mr. Nawbatt is an election official for the voting by those Guyanese eligible to vote by virtue of their employment in Canada.

Fortunately there are scores of observers for the elections tomorrow and I am sure that they are taking note of the misuse of state resources by the PPP/C in this campaign. I hope too that GECOM, which has the constitutional and statutory duty to hold elections that are free and fair, is also taking note.

I am confident that the Coalition will win these elections despite the grievous abuses of state resources by the PPP/C, its ministers, high commissioners and other public officials. Among the many tasks the Coalition in Government will face is to mandate GECOM to make recommendations and proposals to prevent such abuses ever taking place again in Guyana. Such reform is long overdue.

Candidates Ramotar and Anthony violated an express provision of the elections legislation

Section 67 of the Representation of the People Act provides that the election agent of each group of candidates may appoint one of the candidates as its duly appointed candidate to attend the poll at a polling place. The election agent must do so in writing and deliver it to the returning officer of the district not later than seven days before the election day. Only one person may be so appointed for any one polling place.

The presence of candidates Mr. Donald Ramotar and Dr. Frank Anthony of the PPP/C at Camp Ayanganna on May 2, 2015, reportedly observing the voting of the army personnel, is a violation of the Act. As if that was not bad enough, Mr. Ramotar’s attendance in his Party colours was naked electioneering at a place of polling, which is also forbidden. And then to top it all here, candidate Ramotar is permitted to handle and examine what looks suspiciously like the voters list for that polling place.

GECOM, unreasonably in my view, last week decided to deny citizens the right to vote if they choose to do a conflicting duty to assist the elections process as party agents. Yet is it willing to tolerate and close its eyes to the picture of candidates Ramotar and Anthony violating an express provision of the elections legislation and engaging in politicking at a place of poll. The presiding officer should have excluded at least one, if not both candidates and advised them that they had no lawful business there.

I hope that this will not be repeated come May 11.

The PPP/C needs to rein in Jagdeo

Whatever may be the motive underlying the campaign style of former President Bharrat Jagdeo, there is widespread agreement that the rhetoric, invectives and undisguised race-baiting in all his speeches bode ill for the country.

It is true that many of the PPP/C’s more extreme, grass root supporters admire Jagdeo’s aggressive style, targeting the APNU’s African-Guyanese leaders and their supporters. But APNU too has persons with extreme views and sentiments, and who consider Jagdeo’s message grave provocation. At some point their patience and tolerance could snap. This country has made much progress in relations between the two main race groups following 1997. But that improvement must not be taken for granted and there is no doubt in the minds of more sober persons that Jagdeo’s conduct and his speeches are undermining that progress.

On March 8 at Babu John, Corentyne, Jagdeo’s target was the PNCR and its leaders in “African villages”. Jagdeo told his audience then that on elections day November 28, 2011, those persons went around the African villages beating drums and calling on residents to go out and vote to throw out `coolie people’.

Despite the grave concerns expressed about that speech from no less than the Media Monitoring Unit of GECOM, Jagdeo daringly and defiantly raised the level of vitriol at the PPP/C Albion rally on April 19, predicting that if the elections are won by the opposition, the ex-military officers in the APNU+AFC leadership would link up with the [serving] Military and go to the homes of mainly Indian audience and start kicking the doors down. The message was clear: African-Guyanese are lawless, dangerous, to be feared and not to be trusted with the reins of government.

Retired Rear Admiral Best who had earlier announced his support for the opposition coalition sought to defend his former colleagues and the serving men and women of the Army. Jagdeo then pounced on Best, questioning his integrity and demanding that Best explain the source of his wealth.

Had these come up in a less tense environment or time, Jagdeo’s call would appear ludicrous. If there is any explanation to be done for source of wealth, then surely it is by Jagdeo. After all, Best is older than Jagdeo, has worked and saved for much longer than Jagdeo, bought a house lot that is one-seventh the size of Jagdeo’s, and built a house that is a fraction the size of Jagdeo’s, with none of the grandeur.

Jagdeo it seems considers that he as a former Commander-in-Chief has the right to freedom of expression and association with the PPP/C but that his former subordinate Best has none. The truth is, and his attorney Bernard De Santos, SC might wish to confirm this and advise him, the kind of speech Jagdeo is making is not protected under Article 146 of the Constitution.

There is no question that the attack on Best by Jagdeo has caused some serious reflection at the level of officers and ranks in the Defence Force.

The PPP/C with a lacklustre campaign headed by the uninspiring Ramotar-Harper pair decided to contract out its elections campaign to Jagdeo, a man who for a long time has enjoyed and abused constitutional immunity. Even if Jagdeo’s strategy were to work in the short run, it is dangerous in the longer term. The PPP/C needs to rein him in. If it does not, then it will not escape responsibility for the consequences of Jagdeo’s race and hate speeches.

Plain Talk: Elections Special: Surendra Persaud, Robert Badal and Fred Collins

Interview with Dr. Surendra Persaud, Director, Caribbean Surgery Inc.; Mr. Robert Badal, Chief Executive Officer, Pegasus Hotel; and Frederick Collins, Civil Society Activist

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