PNCR balks at electoral reform to avert elections conflict but floats “multi-stakeholder task force”

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton

The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) has floated the idea of a multi-stakeholder task force that would forestall any election-related conflict and controversies, as part of its proposals on the commemoration of international day for eliminating racial discrimination.

In their statement marking the observance of the day, which is observed on March 21, the PNCR noted that a proposal that should be considered to establish a permanent multi-stakeholder task force to prevent any election-related hostility from escalating.

“As the 2020 election showed, our elections remain a hotspot for racial hostility and poor ethnic relations. Irrespective of the political system in use, there will be elections and these have to be managed to minimise any ethnic fallout.”

“One proposal worth considering is the establishment of a permanent multi-stakeholder task force with a mandate to prevent and reduce open election-related hostilities and conflict,” the party further said.

Other proposals from the party included upsizing the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) and other commissions through increased funding, the professionalising and the reappointment of commissioners.

While the party has proposed this multi-stakeholder task force in the context of elections, it was recently revealed by Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Gail Teixeira that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government’s efforts to attract proposals on electoral reform did not see any participation from the PNCR.

Earlier this month, Teixeira had said that after some four months since the PPP/C Government published its proposed amendments to the Representation of People Act (RoPA), the main political Opposition – the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition – was yet to make any recommendations.

In an effort to prevent the recurrence of those events, Government last November released the proposed changes to RoPA for public consultation before the document is finalised and taken to the National Assembly. But Teixeira disclosed that the responses have not been forthcoming as anticipated.

“We did draft amendments to the Representation of People Act and the regulations; they were posted up for public examination. Interestingly enough, there hasn’t been a lot of responses. No response from the APNU/AFC. Maybe it’s understandable but I would still think they would respond,” the Governance Minister posited.

According to Teixeira, up to that point, submissions were made by one of the small political parties – A New and United Guyana (ANUG) – as well as a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and several overseas-based Guyanese individuals and bodies. In addition, the Minister said that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) also made some recommendations of their own.

The Government had indicated that it wanted to have the widest possible engagement with stakeholders including the various political parties on the proposed amendments to RoPA.
An overhaul of the country’s electoral laws can see the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) at GECOM facing as much as life imprisonment for committing fraud, while others can similarly face hefty fines and jail time for any related offence.

The draft updated electoral laws also outline a clear process for the request of a recount, including empowering the Chairman of GECOM to grant that request. Under the proposed laws, the CEO must immediately post the District Tabulation Forms on the Commission’s website as soon as he receives them from the Returning Officers.

Other persons involved in the electoral process can face fines as high as $10 million, and can equally be jailed for life if they breach any provision as outlined in the proposed updated Act.

Only recently, on March 7, GECOM had commenced Continuous Registration, a necessary process for updating the List of Electors and paving the way for the holding of the Local Government Elections (LGE), and this will run until May 29, 2022.

GECOM has 28 permanent registration offices located in all of the ten administrative regions that will be engaged in the registration exercises. Over $750 million has been set aside in Budget 2022 for the preparation to be undertaken by GECOM for the hosting of LGE this year.

This money is part of an overall $4.1 billion allocation to GECOM in Budget 2022, and was examined and approved by the National Assembly during its consideration of the 2022 Budget Estimates.

At the last LGE in November 2018, the then PPP/C Opposition had secured 52 of the 80 Local Authority Areas (LAAs). This followed the holding of the LGE in 2016, during which the PPP/C also claimed the majority of the LAAs.