Opposition willing to support Govt on changing laws to include biometrics for voting

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The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Opposition would be willing to support the Government if it brings legislative and constitutional changes to the National Assembly to include biometrics as a requirement for voting.

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton made the coalition’s position known during a press conference on Tuesday. During the press conference, Norton reiterated that his party wants biometrics, which generally includes biological data such as fingerprints, to be made a condition for persons to vote.

The only requirements for someone to vote, as set out in Articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution, are that that person must be 18 years or older, and must be a Guyanese citizen or a Commonwealth citizen resident and domiciled in Guyana.

It was pointed out to Norton that any deviation from this could set the stage for the elections to be overturned, as occurred in 2001 in the Esther Perreira petition that sought to overturn the results of the 1997 General and Regional Elections due to the use of ID cards. According to Norton, however, the law can be changed with support of the APNU/AFC.

“We can go to Parliament and change the law, and all the issues they would have (been) raised (can) become passe… If the Government comes with a proposal to give credible list so we can get credible elections, the Opposition will work with them on the issue.”

Norton was also reminded that the Opposition has a history of not cooperating with the Government on various issues, such as the composition of the Natural Resource Fund committees.

Despite the investment and oversight committees being appointed months ago, the Opposition are yet to submit their nominees, as the law provides for. However, Norton said the changes to the Constitution that his party is calling for could open the door for them to cooperate on other issues.

“It might very well pave the way for us to cooperate on other issues. But you’re not going to seek to dominate and control and want us to cooperate. So, you can say to the Government, ‘This is a good opportunity for you to engage the Opposition’, and once we can get over that hurdle, you would have created conditions propitious to getting over the other hurdles,” Norton said.

This comes even as the Government is preparing to embark on constitutional reform consultations early next year. The constitutional reform process would be spearheaded by the Constitutional Reform Commission once it is set up, and it will allow stakeholders to make suggestions on much-needed areas of reform in the Constitution.

Back in August of this year, the Government presented the Constitution Reform Commission Bill 2022 in the National Assembly. It seeks the establishment of a Constitution Reform Commission to review the country’s supreme laws.

According to the provisions of the Bill, the commission will review the Constitution to provide for the current and future rights, duties, liabilities, and obligations of the Guyanese people. It is mandated for that purpose to receive, consider, and evaluate submissions for the alteration of the Constitution, and report its recommendations to the Standing Committee for transmission to the National Assembly.

In conducting the review, the Commission will also consider the full protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Guyanese people under law; the rights of Indigenous people of Guyana; the rights of children; eliminating discrimination in all forms; and improving ethnic relations, while promoting ethnic security and equal opportunity.

According to the explanatory memorandum of the Bill, the proposed Constitutional Reform Commission would consist of 20 members who would be drawn from the governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), the Opposition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), and one member from political party A New and United Guyana (ANUG).

One member each would also be drawn from the Guyana Bar Association, the Labour Movement, the National Toshaos Council, the Private Sector, representatives of women’s organisations, youth organisations, Christian, Hindu and Muslim organisations, as well as a nominee representing farmers.