Reforms needed before another election in Guyana – Harmon admits

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Joseph Harmon

Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon on Friday admitted that there are certain changes in the electoral system that need to take place before the country has another election.

“The constitutional reform committee is…important to us because we want to make certain interventions there so that we can have some changes made to certain aspects of our Constitution,”

“We know that constitutional reform will take a while but, in the meantime, we believe that in a bipartisan way, we can address issues which have been raised by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and by our own Court of Appeal in relation to our own electoral laws. We need to address those even before we get into another elections,” Harmon said during a press conference.

The position adopted by Harmon differs from that taken by APNU/AFC’s Aubrey Norton who – in October – contended that the coalition is in no rush for reforms. Norton had said “while we are prepared to consider and discuss electoral reform, it is not something that we will hurtle to without careful analysis of the proposals as well as the institutional changes that are going to be made. So, we are open to discussions and to moving forward on it but we are not at all going to just rush into electoral reforms.”

The 2020 General and Regional Elections held on March 2 was marred by a number of controversies including lengthy legal proceedings – causing the electoral process to drag on for five months until a winner was finally declared on August 2.

In fact, the 2020 elections highlighted numerous flaws in the electoral system – particularly at the Guyana Elections Commission – which the new PPP/C Administration has vowed to address before the country hosts another election.

When pressed about what specific changes the main parliamentary Opposition would like to see taking place before another election is held in Guyana, Harmon said: “I can’t tell you specifically what are all of them but I do know that they are decisions that have been made by the CCJ and I think there are some decisions also by our Court of Appeal that now requires checking and to be placed in the Constitution as we move forward.”

“It is public knowledge that there are some issues that arose in [the] matter which were filed that went to the Caribbean Court of Justice and the CCJ made certain rulings with respect to our Constitution. Those are now decisions made by the highest court in our jurisdiction and therefore, those decisions have to be taken into consideration as we go forward…We have to incorporate some of those decisions into our Constitution,” he explained.

Some of those legal proceedings dealt with the role of the Chief Elections Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission and the interpretation of “more votes cast” as expressed in Article 177 (2) (b) of the Constitution.

Apart from the constitutional reforms, Harmon said the APNU/AFC would not be comfortable going back to another election with the current voters’ list which he described as “bloated”.

President Dr Irfaan Ali has also underscored the need for an updated voters’ list but he had stressed the importance of having reforms at GECOM before that entity embarks on a process of having a new voters’ list.

“Before we get a voters’ list, you have to have a system that the population has trust in, you can’t have a system where there is very little trust in that system. And the trust in the Secretariat at GECOM has been eroded significantly,” the President had expressed in early October.

In fact, the Head of State had announced plans to launch a Commission of Inquiry into the events that unfolded during and after the March 2 elections to help in identifying loopholes that need to be fixed.

Local Government Elections are due next year and already, the Government has announced that while it will provide the resources needed, administrative changes at GECOM are needed.

In fact, a number of top electoral officials including the Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield and his Deputy, Roxanne Myers, are before the courts on a number of charges in relation to misconduct in public office and conspiracy to commit fraud regarding the 2020 polls.

GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj had told this newspaper that confidence must first be restored at the Elections Commission, after the tremendous damage it suffered during this year’s elections.

Meanwhile, in addition to a new voters’ list, Harmon said there are other reforms that are needed at GECOM.

“GECOM is GECOM. I will not make any statement which says we are supporting any breaking up of GECOM. If for example, there are some processes which may need to be reviewed, yes, I can see some processes that need to be reviewed,” the Opposition Leader outlined.

He also made reference to the Carter Center formula which provides for a balanced representation of ruling and opposition parties on the Elections Commission. The current formula provides for three Government Commissioners and three Opposition Commissioners along with a Chairperson to be appointed based on an agreement between the President and Opposition Leader.

Harmon said “I believe if any changes were need to be made, we need to review that [formula] and how the Secretariat functions and whether in fact this adversarial arrangement that is there, whether it is serving the interest of the Guyanese people,” Harmon posited.