Better tabulation process needed for faster election results – diplomat

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As Guyana prepares for General and Regional Elections in a few months’ time, outgoing Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, Venkatachalam Mahalingam believes that the country needs to have a better tabulation and compilation process so as to reduce the lengthy delays in delivering the poll results.

Having observed the 2015 General and Regional Elections as well as two Local Government Elections – 2016 and 2018 – during his five-year tenure here, High Commissioner Mahalingam explained during an interview with INews one thing that would ensure the timely delivery of election results was the fast tracking of the tabulation process and the way in which the results from each polling station get to the elections body headquarters.

“I’ve seen definitively (the delays in declaring elections results here). It’s not desirable for the anxious voters to wait for a week to get to know their results because it can lead to other complications. So, therefore, it is advisable, and it is better, to have a better system of compilation of the votes from each polling centre to a centralised location in a secured way, which can be used for declaring the results in the fastest way possible,” the Indian diplomat asserted.

Only recently, India was highly praised for delivering timely elections and election results within a short period. According to the Indian diplomat, his country uses electronic voting machines and that is how Indian’s elections body was able to declare election results after 900 million voters exercised their franchise over a period of 39 days in seven phases.
He noted that while it was up to Guyana to decide on whether to pursue e-voting, finding a less time-consuming and efficient way of tabulating election results would be an “extremely useful step” for Guyana at this point in time in the absence of electronic voting here.

Moreover, the High Commissioner disclosed that his country has already sponsored several officials from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to be trained on electoral processes in India. At least, six persons have benefited from the country’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme and GECOM is being encouraged to nominate more staffers for training, Mahalingam added.

The Indian High Commissioner is not the only foreign diplomat to recommend faster tabulation of election results in Guyana. Last year, then United States Ambassador Perry Holloway had also touted the idea.

“I’m still a big believer that electronic tabulation can go a long way towards getting the results quicker… It would be nice to be able to almost have near or as close as to instantaneous [results] as you could … I think electronic tabulation go a long way for that and I think it’s a way to ease in the greater electronic voting… The tabulation, I think, is very doable and I think it’s a way to get started,” Holloway had contended.

The need for electoral reform, and constitution reform as a whole, has long been highlighted and during the campaign trail leading up to the 2015 elections which got it into office, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition had committed to have these reforms but was yet to take tangible steps to do so – something it has received much criticism for.

Over the years, there have been numerous and repeated recommendations for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to undergo reform. In fact, elections observer groups, both internationally and regionally, have been insisting that while GECOM’s purpose for existence is to administer free and fair electoral processes, Guyana should consider reforms that would reduce or eliminate the politicised composition of the elections body in order to ensure independence and impartiality.

Currently, the elections oversight body is constituted using the Carter Centre model that was introduced for the 1992 elections to guide the composition of GECOM. This model provides for three members each from Government and the Opposition; and the Chairman to be appointed by the President from a list of names submitted to him by the Opposition, a process which many say has since exhausted its usefulness.

In fact, this was the position taken by President David Granger back in September during a press conference, where he said that the matter would be included on the agenda to be discussed with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.

In turn, Jagdeo had said that he was open to having these discussions with the Head of State, but only if the new method proposed would ensure complete impartiality at GECOM.
However, President Granger’s willingness to host talks on the matter was made at a time when he was under heavy criticism over his unilateral appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as the new GECOM Chairman in 2017 after rejecting three lists of six nominees each submitted by the Opposition Leader.

Patterson has since stepped down after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) last week ruled that his appointment was flawed and unconstitutional. The two leaders are expected to meet sometime soon to discuss the appointment of a new GECOM Chair. (Story by Vahnu Manikchand)