GECOM owes it to Guyana to finalise elections – Commissioner

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…5 months since APNU/AFC subverting will of Guyanese

Sase Gunraj, GECOM Commissioner. [File Photo]
(Republished from Guyana Times) Today marks five months since elections were held in Guyana, yet there has been no declaration of the results by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). A relatively smooth election process ended up being undermined first by a few strategically placed persons in the GECOM secretariat, then by court case after court case.

In an interview with this publication, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) nominated GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj was optimistic that the end may finally be in sight, ahead of a highly anticipated meeting of the commission today at 10:00h to discuss the declaration of the results.

“I believe there is enough to ensure that we have a conclusion of this process as expeditiously as possible. As you are aware, (today) will be five months since elections were held. And we owe it to this country to have it resolved,” Gunraj explained.

He also explained that Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield has also been invited to the meeting. Gunraj recalled the High Court and Court of Appeal rulings that the CEO is an employee of GECOM. Not a constitutional officer, not a “lone ranger” and thus, he would have to comply with any instructions issued by the chair.

It is unclear at this point if the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Commissioners – Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman- will even attend today’s meeting, as efforts to contact them proved futile. This trio has a track record of not attending important GECOM meetings.

There was the occasion of July 9, when GECOM Chair, retired Justice Claudette Singh called a meeting to discuss the way forward following the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling that the recount was valid and that Lowenfield’s invalidation of over 115,000 votes to give APNU/AFC a victory was, in fact, unlawful. That meeting had to be rescheduled because the APNU/AFC commissioners needed time to study the judgement.

It was rescheduled to July 11, where Lowenfield, despite explicit instructions from the Chair to use the recount results, once again plucked numbers from the skies and sent them in to GECOM as part of his final elections report. At that meeting, all three APNU/AFC nominated commissioners were also absent.

And on July 14, the APNU/AFC appointed GECOM Commissioners walked out of the commission’s meeting after Justice Singh told  Lowenfield to submit his elections report as requested.

Litigation

Many, including Prime Ministerial Candidate of the PPP/C, Brigadier Mark Phillips, have asserted that the onus is now on the GECOM Chair to act and bring a timely conclusion to the five months wait for a final declaration of results, regardless of whether she gets cooperation from the CEO and government-aligned commissioners.

Ahead of today’s meeting, concern has been expressed about the sheer volume of litigation brought by surrogates of APNU/AFC, which have sought to tie GECOM’s hands and prevent them from declaring the election results. There have also been fears that APNU/AFC may approach the CCJ to once again delay the declaration of results and appeal Thursday’s decision in Jones v GECOM.

On Thursday, the Court of Appeal dismissed the challenge brought by APNU/AFC supporter Misegna Jones in a unanimous decision and upheld Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George’s recent ruling that the National Recount exercise is valid, and that the decision taken by GECOM to use the recount figures as the basis for a final declaration of the March 2 polls must be adhered to.

In the ruling handed down by Appellate Justices Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud, along with High Court Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry, it was asserted that the proceedings filed by Jones are an abuse of the court system since many of the issues raised were previously dealt with in other litigations filed during the protracted electoral process.

CCJ is currently on a two-month hiatus. PPP/C Candidate and attorney-at-law, Sanjeev Datadin, has expressed the view that while APNU/AFC may very well approach the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the apex court is unlikely to grant special leave to hear an appeal in the matter.

He was, at the time, being interviewed about additional litigation in the Jones matter after the Court of Appeal in Guyana unanimously dismissed the APNU/AFC supporter’s application to overturn the July 20 decision of the acting Chief Justice, Roxane George, that the Recount Order (Order 60) was valid.

Datadin had added that the contentious litigation over the past four months is a blatant abuse of the judicial system. According to him, there is no need, at this time, for further litigation. However, he explained that they are cognisant of the APNU/AFC abuse of the court in an effort to further delay and obstruct the declaration of the election results.

Shifting narratives

The bone of APNU/AFC’s many shifting narratives is their belief that all votes from the recount should not be counted. Without any shred of evidence, the coalition has claimed that the recount results are not credible, despite the fact that the recount process was supervised by a Caricom team.

It was President David Granger who, in justifying his decision to block the Carter Center from observing the recount, had described CARICOM as the “most legitimate interlocutors” in the elections. CARICOM released a report making it clear that the recount was credible and can form the basis for the declaration of results.

In addition, international and local observers and all the other parties (except APNU/AFC) which contested the polls, have accepted the results of the recount as credible and called for the final declaration to be made on this basis only.

During the National Recount process, after it was confirmed that the coalition was defeated at the polls, it started a relentless effort to discredit the electoral process in making wild and unsubstantiated claims of voter impersonation.

The National Recount shows that PPP/C won the March 2 polls with 233,336 votes cast in its favour. APNU/AFC secured 217,920 votes while the A New and United Guyana gained 2313; Change Guyana –1953; Liberty and Justice Party – 2657; People’s Republic Party – 889; The Citizenship Initiative – 680; The New Movement – 244; and the United Republican Party – 36. (G3)