Letter: Electoral integrity must be the root of our democracy

The Guyana Elections Commission

Dear Editor,

Foremost, it must be acknowledged that there is much work to be done to improve and strengthen Guyana’s democratic framework. This is given the significant abuse and damage resulting from the March 2020 elections fiasco and its related undercurrents. While the recently released Electoral Integrity Global Report 2019-2021 influences perceptive reactions, its limitations include a lack of pronouncements on causal factors and assumptions made by the evaluators in their consideration of circumstances requiring clear delineation.

Notably, the Guyana process received a low comparative global measure in the Report, but its implications for many relevant stakeholders determine why the absoluteness of the measurement demands and necessitates the need for further internal interrogation. In particular, the score focuses on evaluations over the last three years, and does not reflect the work done by the current PPPC Administration since returning to Government.

Certainly, it is appropriate that dependability of the findings for current reference also considers the improvement undertaken since August 2020. Notwithstanding, it is obvious that the low score was influenced by, and recorded under, the desperate effort by the PNC/APNU/AFC Coalition Government to rig the 2020 National and Regional Elections. The flagrant self-sacrificial role played by key employees of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) justified damning global condemnations and jurisdictional electoral charges. But one must not pretend, however, that the problem was not incentivised by other internal accommodations of central players in the then Coalition Government.

A revamped GECOM must improve its image, supported by rational and practical, legally-enforceable changes to improve its transparent delivery of free and fair elections. There is no doubt that elections are indeed central to our democracy. Free and fair elections must, at all times, realise the peaceful transition of power to that political party the majority of voting citizens support.

Today, it is recognised that even many die-hards of the opposing PNCR regime are in acceptance of the plain truth, evidenced by the recount results. Consequently, more civic participation in the struggle for free and fair elections is being experienced.
Although the circumstance demands an almost imbued cultural factional change, those who portray a behaviour of immunity to rigging must get civilised, and work in harmony for the betterment of our people and country.

Critically, voter intimidation can lead to low voter turnout, thereby increasing barriers to transparent voting responses. These have been the hallmark of the PNC’s behaviour for decades. Many of their leading activists have engaged, and continue to engage, in issuing widespread threats of violence, including the burning of the capital city. Certainly, these undercurrents must be halted, and the threat of post-election violence must be made a thing of the past.

Our electoral procedures must be objectively reviewed where appropriate, and carefully establish policies for compliance encouraged to aid GECOM’s execution of its mandate in the delivery of acceptable, integrity-driven, free and fair elections’ results.

Editor, the presence of continued lawlessness and irrationality evidence the period from the successful passing of the December 21, 2018 no-confidence motion to the almost forceable ejection of the APNU/AFC cabal, some of whom continue a persistence of internal self-conviction. There must be stronger consequential actions to strengthen the enforcement of our electoral laws.

Further, ensuring clear electoral procedures, accurate district boundaries, improving voter education and registration clarity; political party registration; encouraging wide media coverage; defining the limitations of campaign financing, the voting process, and the vote count approach will serve to ensure the early release of results. Therefore, the GECOM electoral authority must be clear as regards the role and delivery expected of the Secretariat staff, as well as from the GECOM Commissioners.

The recent GECOM advertisement of vacancies for polling day staff is most welcome. Presiding officers, assistant presiding officers, poll clerks, ballot clerks/ counting assistants, and information clerks must be fully trained. Notwithstanding this, carefully-thought-out criteria must be used to guide the selection and retaining of these responding persons for employment. Those employed must be men and women with integrity. The forward movement of GECOM in this respect must be applauded. It is a clear signal that the overdue Local Government Elections (LGEs) are likely to be called, and this MUST be realised as early as possible.

It is crucial that GECOM purposefully develop a cadre of efficient and tooled staff who will be ready to professionally execute its mandate. Those who are calling for GECOM’s flexibility now were among those who were dumb deflectors, who contributed to the riggers keeping their knees on our people’s necks for five long months.

They must be disregarded, but action must not stop here, as the organisation ought to sustain a continuous improvement approach that would prevent the causal factors related to the 2020 debacle from ever raising their ugly head again.

In a phased way, the Guyana electoral system will be improved and strengthened, but achieving a pinnacled global measure will always have challenges linked to the Opposition’s transitioning makeup and behaviour. Our country has had enough rigging and procrastination in the preparation for elections, an approach that is often conveniently promoted by Opposition elements.

Therefore, here in Guyana, ensuring integrity is seen as a purposeful objective is crucial. In addition, improving the legislative framework to enforce and deter certain clandestine patterns must also be undertaken, and would be central to some of the remedial actions required for improved national and global perceptions, and encourage global democratic acceptance.

In the case of these delayed LGEs, GECOM must now hold a short period of Claims and Objections, and produce a voters list! There must be no more delays.

Neil Kumar