… Police called in to pacify situation
High drama surrounded the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) elections on Saturday as Police had to be called in over the refusal of election officials to provide the voters list to supporters of incumbent President Patrick Yarde’s challenger.
The tension was high at the GPSU headquarters on Shiv Chanderpaul drive, Georgetown as the union’s Presidential candidate, Gregory Gaspar and his supporters cried foul over the process. Gaspar, who spoke to the Guyana Times newspaper outside the building, was adamant that the list was not a private document.
“We were informed last night (Friday) that the counting would have resumed at nine today. So we are here. And I think at nine fifteen (9:15 hrs) the election officer would have taken one of the boxes and took off the seal, emptied it out on the table and said, we are here to proceed with the counting.”
“I intervened; I said we would not proceed with the counting until I have the list for that particular box so that I can know how many votes were cast. His words to me were if I am trying to stall the process and that we can get the list after. I said no, (that) that is not standard operating procedure, we need to get the list first so that we can do the proper checks and balances.”
“To date, he had abandoned the building. That box that was opened, the ballots are on the table, he has vacated his post. He hopped in his vehicle and drove away. That was about an hour ago.”
In a strongly worded letter addressed to Elections Officer Herman De Souza, Gaspar had complained that the list was requested on April 23, 26, 27, 28 and 29, but was never provided. In the letter, he also complained about ballot boxes being delivered without the elections or assistant elections officers present.
The letter also raised the issue of no statement of polls for outlying regions such as Regions Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), Five (Mahaica-Berbice), Six (East Berbice-Corentyne), Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) being made available to members.
“Members are aware that this information is critical for validating the count of ballots cast for the respective stations/roving ballot boxes, and I therefore demand that this information be made available to each candidate contesting the GPSU elections for 2017, as well as the observers witnessing the count prior to the counting of ballots.”
In addition, Gaspar expressed fears that voters were inadvertently disenfranchised. He stated that after the injunction restraining the holding of the election of office bearers for the Executive Council of the Guyana Public Service Union was discharged, De Souza had set the election for April 27, 2017.
“This action resulted in the disenfranchisement of several eligible voters of the Guyana Public Service Union as ample notice was not given to all eligible voters. Many of these voters indicated that efforts were made to have this matter addressed but to no avail, and have informed me of same,” Gaspar stated in his letter.
Gaspar also expressed concern about the condition in which some of the boxes arrived. In his letter, Gaspar referenced a Region Three ballot box which he stated was allegedly tampered with. He said that allegations that votes from non-eligible voters were placed in the box should be reviewed before finalising the elections
He stated that in one case four ballot boxes from Linden, Region 10 arrived with three seals broken. Gaspar related that he approached the elections officer earlier, but was told that they were given three seals for each box.
“The one that came from Linden only had one seal. The others were open and empty. We asked how come and we were told that someone who was working with the boxes emptied out everything and put them in one box,” he said.
Gaspar was adamant that this was a breach as no one was authorised to breach the seal. He stated that as a result of these events the elections results would be compromised.
Their position had, up to late yesterday (Saturday), resulted in a standoff as the ballots had not been counted. It is understood that Police were eventually brought by election officials to mediate the imbroglio and to ensure that law and order was maintained.
Meanwhile, the Chief Elections Officer late Saturday evening said that despite efforts to ensure that the elections process is not only free, fair and transparent, but also free from fear, it has become apparent that there are individuals determined to disrupt the process. According to De Souza, this will only result in the disenfranchisement of the thousands of members throughout the numerous branches across the length and breadth of Guyana.
“All parties concerned were pertinently informed in a timely manner of the intention to recommence the counting and verification of ballots at 09:00 am Saturday. However, as the process was about to commence, my staff and I were subjected to disruption and intimidating behaviour, meted out by some candidates and what appeared to be their supporters; many of whom admitted themselves into the building without proper authorisation, and refused to exit when instructed to do so by internal security personnel,” the elections officer said.
The disruption lasted until 15:30h, a period of six and one half hours after the time counting was officially scheduled to commence.
“This action gives me the impression that persons present are deliberately attempting to obstruct the counting process which is necessary for there to be a declaration of the results of the elections.”