Massive reduction of polling places by GECOM

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…sure, to induce chaos, voter suppression – PPP/C Chief Scrutineer

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), in working out the logistics of ensuring that voters are facilitated to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed sovereign franchise, from the list of Polling Stations submitted by GECOM, discerned very disturbing trends countrywide.

Giving examples, the Party on Monday evening stated that in one district on the East Coast of Demerara – from Mon Repos and Foulis – Polling Stations have been reduced and this could hinder persons’ constitutional right on March 2, 2020.

Speaking with Inews, PPP/C Chief Scrutineer Zulfikar Mustapha said that the decision by GECOM to reduce the polling places will now displace persons and cause chaos. In Mon Repos, there are approximately 10,000 voters registered, yet only two Places of Poll – Mon Repos Nursery School and Mon Repos Primary School – have now been designated to facilitate them. Mon Repos comprises several sections – Mon Repos North, Mon Repos Housing Scheme, Mon Repos Market Square, Mon Repos Squatting Area, Mon Repos Richardsville, Marthasville Block CC and Block 8 – which are widely dispersed.

PPP/C Chief Scrutineer, Zulfikar Mustapha

From the data provided, approximately 7000 voters will now be funnelled into Mon Repos Primary School to cast their ballots. This is a recipe for chaos since, based on our history of past elections, most of these voters will be arriving at the Place of Poll in the early hours of the morning or in the evening. In the last elections, Mon Repos had 19 polling places, which allowed a very orderly flow of voters and the voting was incident-free.

This, he said, is an alarming pattern and has been repeated in Good Hope where the polling places have been reduced from 10 to 3; and in Lusignan, from 20 to 3. A large number of persons from Foulis have now been transferred to vote at Paradise Primary School, which is two miles west of Foulis.

The experience at Paradise Primary School in the 2015 elections suggests what may occur when so many persons have to traverse long distances to reach their Place of Poll and be herded to stand in long lines for hours before they can cast their ballot. The Commissioner of Police had to dispatch Riot Police to break up crowds at this Place of Poll and to permit the PPP’s Polling Agents and Statements of Poll to exit.

Chairperson of GECOM Justice Claudette Singh

“We are seeing this pattern repeating across the country, particularly in the rural and hinterland areas where the distances to be traversed are even more daunting and consequently more likely to precipitate logistical disenfranchisement.”

Unfortunately, he added, the party can only conclude that this massive reduction in polling places by GECOM, through design or inadvertence, is sure to cause at a minimum, a discouragement to voters to cast their franchise or at maximum, create a situation on March 2 that will descend into chaos and destroy any hope of peaceful and orderly elections.

“We call upon GECOM to immediately rectify this explosive situation which can derail our incipient democratic order. We call upon the Guyanese people, the international community and the international observer groups [to] raise their voices against this unreasonable fettering of the right to vote so as to ensure that the General and Regional Elections are free and fair.

He noted that instead of making the process as simple as possible, GECOM is now moving the Polling Stations away from persons which will not only inconvenience voters but frustrate them.

Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield

Mustapha added that he wrote Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, on this matter, objecting to the decision and also made viable recommendations. He added that his letter has not even been acknowledged by Lowenfield. The party’s Chief Scrutineer added that he hopes that the international observers in Guyana are taking note of the length at which the legitimate machinery is being used to frustrate voters.

Discriminatory

Meanwhile, Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall in a social media post on Monday evening said that GECOM has made a decision to use only public buildings as Polling Stations.

This decision, he said, must be reviewed.

“It will cause confusion, chaos, tremendous hardship and inconvenience on polling day, because some communities which have thousands of voters, only have one or two public buildings, whilst others, have many public buildings.”

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

According to Nandlall, this inequitable distribution of polling places is discriminatory in so far as it gives electorates in certain communities easier access to voting places than others.

“In my view, this amounts to suppression if not a denial of persons’ constitutional right to vote. This strikes at the heart of the democratic process…No elector should be subjected to such unnecessary hardships to exercise his or her franchise. The community of Mon Repos, for example, had 19 polling places in the 2015, for 2020, that have been reduced to two.  I wish to draw this issue to the attention of the observer teams and the international community and request their urgent intervention,” Nandlall added.