Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Aubrey Norton has launched an attack on the integrity of Chairwoman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh, and called for her to be removed.
He made these remarks during his first address to the PNCR’s statutory General Council on Saturday at Congress Place.
Norton told party members that he recently met with the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary for Caribbean Affairs and Haiti, Barbara Feinstein, who was in Guyana on a three-day visit. During that meeting, he explained that a host of issues were raised including having an independent Elections Commission.
“We raised with them the fact that, yes, we have three Government; yes, we have three Opposition [Commissioners] but that the Chairman is supposed to be independent and what we are saying is that the Chairman of the Elections Commission is not independent.”
The PNCR Leader went on to accuse the GECOM Chair of being partisan and voting alongside the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Commissioners on every occasion.
“We have noted that she conspired with them to break the rules to make a Chief Elections Officer who isn’t qualified for the job. And so, she is partisan and our mantra must be… Claudette Singh must go! She must go to ensure that we have elections that are free and fair. Her presence will not facilitate that,” Norton alleged.
In addition to Justice Singh as its Chair, GECOM comprises of three Government-nominated Commissioners – Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Manoj Narayan – while the Opposition-nominated Commissioners are Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman.
But only Friday last, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, who also met with the US Deputy Assistant Secretary, told reporters at a press conference that the PPP would be cautious in changing the current “3-3-1” formula of the seven-member Elections Commission given the events that played out at the March 2020 General and Regional Elections.
In response to Norton’s concerns, Jagdeo said he informed the visiting US official that the blatant attempts to rig the 2020 elections were done at the technical level and that the political presence within the 3-3-1 composition was a “saving grace” in ensuring democracy prevailed.
“I point out to the Deputy Assistant Secretary that the threat did not come from the political [presence at the Elections] body – the 3-3-1. It came from the technical staff at the [GECOM] Secretariat. That is where, in complicity with APNU, they sought to rig the elections. So had we not had that 3-3-1 formula, today you would have had an illegal Government in office with results declared that had no basis on how people voted. And so, we have to be very cautious about these matters,” he stressed.
Nevertheless, the Vice President stated that while the governing party is open-minded about changing the composition of the Elections Commission – something which was listed in its 2020 election manifesto, national discussions and consultations will have to be held. Even so, however, he contended that adequate systems would have to be put in place to prevent any recurrence of two years ago.
“In the final decision, because the people of the country will have a chance to weigh in, we will be very conscious of the 2020 period, about what happened at the technical level. So, any amendment to that formula would have to be replaced with some solid safeguards that ensured that elections can’t be rigged by capricious actions or illegal action on the part of the technical people. So, we still have an open mind but that is not going to happen by us sitting down with APNU and deciding on this,” Jagdeo posited.
Former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield; his then Deputy, Roxanne Myers; and former Returning Officer for Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Clairmont Mingo, were last August dismissed from their respective posts at the Elections Commission.
The embattled trio is currently before the courts facing a number of electoral fraud charges for their alleged attempts to sway the results of the March 2020 elections in favour of the then ruling A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government.
This resulted in a five-month impasse during which a national recount exercise had to be conducted, under the watch of the international community.
The recount exercise proved that Mingo heavily inflated the figures in Region Four (Guyana’s most populated voting district) in favour of the then caretaker APNU/AFC regime – which was defeated by a No-Confidence Motion in December 2018.
The exercise also confirmed that the PPP won the elections by some 15,000 votes more than the coalition party.