Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo says that amendments to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) is crucial to prevent the events that occurred following the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections from recurring.
ROPA contains laws specific to the conduct of elections and election related issues in Guyana.
“We’ve solicited from the public all of the issues that they would like to see amended in the law. The idea is to make more transparent and to define responsibilities in the Act that are unambiguous and thirdly, to put in place a set of penalties for people [who] tried to steal the elections,” Jagdeo said during a press conference on Friday.
The Vice President noted that any right-thinking person will support this effort, adding that all Guyanese stakeholders will have a chance to have an input in the crafting of the amended bill.
According to him, a draft amendment bill is likely to be in place by the “end of June” following which it will be sent to the various political parties in the country, civil society bodies, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the international community as well be available for the public.
“Then people would have three months in Guyana to give their input. And we will look at issues right from registration to declaration of the results so everything that is not unambiguous, not transparent etc. We made it clear that we want SoPs (Statements of Poll) in the public domain before the tabulation starts, that sort of thing,” the VP pointed out.
He went on to assure that everyone will get a chance to give their feedback on the amendments including the current parliamentary Opposition, A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC).
“And then when that’s done, a draft bill taking into account the input [received] will be presented to the Parliament, where the parliamentary Opposition will once again have an input,” Jagdeo stressed.
Over the past few days, the Opposition coalition criticised the involvement of the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the electoral reform process.
Earlier this month, Government announced that it was partnering with the IRI through a United States-funded project to lay the foundation for the much-needed electoral reforms.
However, the APNU/AFC has objected to the IRI’s role in the process, claiming that foreigners should not be conducting Guyana’s reforms. It complained too about not being consulted before the project was rolled out.
But the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has since explained that the project is being led by Guyana with the IRI merely playing a supporting role. This was reiterated by the Vice President on Friday.
“IRI will support [the reform process]. So, a lot of this stuff is them not leading, they will support electoral reforms. So, they may provide consultants who may do the drafting for us etc. But when the debate takes place, it’s between the Guyanese who will decide what will finally be the amendments. It will be the Opposition and Government in the Parliament that will pass the final law and you will have a full-fledged debate,” VP Jagdeo stated.
According to Jagdeo, the Irfaan Ali-led Administration will continue to accept the support of the international community on issues of transparency and democracy.
The need for electoral reform, and more broadly, constitutional reforms, was underscored following last year’s March polls, which led to a five-month tumultuous impasse.
There were concerted efforts by the former governing coalition regime and some GECOM officials to undermine democracy after elections were held.
A number of ploys were involved, from GECOM officials inflating numbers to favour the former ruling party to supporters of the APNU/AFC using the courts to drag out the electoral process.
The PPP/C Administration had stated since taking office that the issues that caused the prolonged delays during the 2020 General and Regional Elections need to be addressed before the country holds another election.
Over the years, international organisations that have observed several electoral cycles in Guyana have been making a series of recommendations to improve the country’s electoral process. Among those recommendations is changing the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Currently, GECOM is composed of three Commissioners from the Government and three from the parliamentary Opposition along with a Chairperson, who is selected following consultations between the President and the Opposition Leader.
But during Friday’s press conference, VP Jagdeo pointed out this position of the international community to de-politicise GECOM would have to be reconsidered given last year’s events.
“For a very long time, the international community, after we had enshrined The Carter Center formula into the Constitution, had been advocating for a technical body – one that is devoid of political representation at GECOM. Given the experience recently of what had taken place at GECOM, I think there is a big reconsideration of this view because what happened at GECOM. It was the technical body – the machinery – that tried to rig the elections on behalf of APNU/AFC. The Chief Elections Officer (Keith Lowenfield), the Deputy Chief (Elections Officer Roxanne Myers) and (Region Four Returning Officer, Clairmont) Mingo.”
“And so, had it not been for the Commission being constituted as the type (presently) enshrined in the Constitution, we would’ve probably had a result very different from what we have today. And so, given that experience, there will be a huge rethinking of this position,” Jagdeo stated.
Several GECOM officials and staff including CEO Lowenfield, Deputy CEO Myers and embattled RO Mingo have since been charged for electoral fraud.
Additionally, PNCR Chairperson Volda Lawrence has also been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud after she was the lone political party representative who signed the fraudulent declaration made by Mingo in which he inflated the figures in favour of the coalition.
Meanwhile, the Opposition coalition has lost both election petitions filed to challenge the outcome of the 2020 elections which saw the PPP/C securing a victory with 233,336 votes – some 15,416 more votes than the APNU/AFC. (G8)