Mingo & GECOM staff “deployed all possible effort” to ensure SOPs weren’t examined – EU

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Clairmont Mingo, Returning Officer for Region Four

[Extract of EU EOM Report]

In all electoral districts except for Region 4, the tabulation process and verification thereof were conducted in a transparent and consensual manner despite some inconsistencies in the procedures.

In cases where a spreadsheet summary had been prepared in advance for use in the proceedings, political party agents and observers were systematically offered the opportunity to cross-check the results of each polling station against the SOPs in their possession before agreeing to the pronouncement of results.

Numbers generally matched, with only few minor mistakes being corrected with the consent of political party agents present. Throughout the proceeding and despite some setbacks at the onset, the ROs acted in an open and transparent manner, cooperating with party agents and observers alike.

By noon on 4 March, the results of both the general and regional elections had been announced in all these nine districts.

Against this backdrop, simultaneous requests for general recount were filed on 4 March by APNU+AFC in all regions won by PPP/C. These requests were largely perceived as coordinated, and complainants struggled to justify their requests and, at times, withdrew the requests based on received instructions.

Until 3 March evening, the tabulation process in Region 4 followed a similar pattern, with the RO verifying the results of each SOP received by his office against the ones in possession of party agents and observers before tabulating them. Except for some minor issues that were promptly resolved, the tabulation process was initially conducted in a smooth and cooperative fashion.

A large part of the results for Georgetown had been tabulated when the process was suspended on 3 March evening.

The process started derailing on 4 March, while the results of all other regions were being announced and the country was anxiously awaiting the results from the most densely populated region to determine the outcome of the general elections.

As stakeholders reconvened to resume proceedings, a disturbing series of staffing issues and other disruptions stalled any further progress.

Compounding confusion and mistrust, the CEO intervened to impose the use of a spreadsheet containing results that did not match the SOPs in the possession of party agents.

On 5 March the situation culminated with the RO unlawfully declaring unverified results.

Tensions soared in the morning when due to an alleged bomb threat, armed police forced the temporary evacuation of the tabulation centre which PPP/C-nominated commissioners and other stakeholders resisted, wary of potential tampering with the electoral material.

Following two days of confusion and incessant interruptions, political party agents erupted in loud protest when the RO started unlawfully pronouncing election results for the region without having completed the tabulation in their presence as mandated by law.

A copy of the official results form for the general elections in Region 4 circulated on social media shortly thereafter, giving APNU+AFC enough edge over PPP/C in the region to take the lead at national level.

During the purported pronouncement by the RO, an emergency meeting of GECOM’s board convened but ended inconclusively, displaying a broken commission unable to control unfolding events.

By failing to act decisively, GECOM abdicated its constitutional duty to take all actions necessary to ensure compliance with the law and oversee a proper tabulation process. PPP/C obtained a High Court injunction restraining GECOM and the RO from declaring results until the tabulation for Region 4 was completed in compliance with the law.

Chaos and confusion ensued, with tensions at times degenerating into brawls between party agents, while rumours and disinformation rapidly spread on social media.

On 11 March, the acting Chief Justice annulled the results of Region 4, confirmed the above-mentioned injunction and ordered the RO to resume the tabulation process accordingly by 12 March.

The ruling stressed that Section 84(1) of the Representation of the People Act required the RO to ascertain the total votes cast per candidate list by use of the SOPs in the presence of party agents.

Throughout the rest of the process, however, the RO and GECOM staff deployed all possible effort to make sure no stakeholder would ever be able to examine the SOPs.

First, when the tabulation resumed on 12 March, the RO maintained that he would read results from a spreadsheet in blatant defiance of the Chief Justice’s explicit call for transparency and the use of SOPs. Sustained objections from party agents and observers forced the intervention of the Chairperson and yet another adjournment.

When the process resumed on 13 March morning, results were hastily read out from purported SOPs that were not visible to anyone present. The mission noted a large number of cases when the announced numbers of votes cast for APNU+AFC were higher than those on the SOPs in the possession of party agents, and PPP/C numbers reduced.

Despite such blatant discrepancies, requests for reviewing the SOPs were all dismissed as pertaining to recount requests or post-election petitions. Given that to date a 2015 election petition is still pending, this fuelled suspicions that the CEO and the RO were actively
pursuing a strategy of fait accompli to impose fabricated results with no prospect for timely legal remedy.

After the Chief Justice on that the day expressly demanded that SOPs be displayed in plain
view of agents and observers,103 the RO ultimately had no choice but to arrange for their projection.

However, the process that ensued did not provide for any transparency. Instead of a live projection of the SOPs, blurred and cropped images of the scanned documents were briefly projected on an undulating bedsheet, which made it impossible to scrutinise their contents.

Once again, GECOM failed to act decisively to ensure a proper tabulation process. After repeated unsuccessful requests for adjustments, party agents and observers present ultimately resigned and only stayed to witness the process brought to completion. The RO again declared unverified results for the general and regional elections in Region 4 on late night of 13 March.