Problems surface after peaceful polling
Commission probes voting at some stations after polls closed
- some observers reported evicted
Bulk of results expected by noon

By Chronicle staffers
Guyana Chronicle
March 20, 2001

HEAVY voter turnout was reported in many parts of the country in yesterday's regional and general elections, widely regarded as peaceful, but problems surfaced at some polling stations in Georgetown and a few other places on the coast as night fell.

Observers, police and Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) officials reported voting was peaceful throughout but hiccups were said to have affected supporters of all parties, some of whom were not allowed to vote.

Figures of those not allowed to vote were not available up to press time and GECOM Chairman, Major General Joe Singh expects the bulk of the preliminary results from the voting would be in by noon today.

Chief Elections Officer, Mr Gocool Boodoo reported at noon that polling in most sections of Georgetown and other parts of the country was "heavy" and this trend picked up in the afternoon.

Sources said some of the international observers monitoring the elections were thrown out of some polling stations in Georgetown last night where they were to witness the close of poll and counting of ballots.

Singh told a news conference he had not heard about the reported eviction of the observers.

"I am afraid I have no knowledge of this and I did not get any such reports but if there really were such occurrences that took place, then clearly they are very serious breaches of the protocols," he said.

If indeed the observers were thrown out, this was highly irregular, he said.

Heading the group of overseas election monitors who number some 154 representatives from Europe, North America, the English-speaking Commonwealth states plus the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), are those from the nations comprising the European Union (EU).

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is heading a 44-person observer delegation from the Carter Center. The team includes former Barbados Prime Minister, Mr Erskine Sandiford.

Some polling stations reportedly remained open up to 21:00 hrs (9:00 p.m.) and Singh said this matter has raised some concerns and will be investigated.

He acknowledged having received such reports and said this matter was being fully investigated.

Polling stations were officially closed at 18:00 hrs (6 p.m.) but GECOM allowed those still in line at that time waiting to vote to do so.

"We have asked for a report from the Returning Officers in District Four to enquire why is it that after the instructions or order given by the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) for polls to (be closed) and the clear instructions that only those persons in the line at that time were to be permitted to vote (that the polls were still opened up to 9:00 p.m..."

The Chairman said these reports will be submitted to the CEO for the Commission to deal with.

Singh said the commission expects the bulk of the preliminary results to reach the Commission by midday today and copies of the Statements of Poll to be with the CEO by 18:00 hrs.

Counting began at the place of poll after the closure of voting and continued throughout the night.

The commission had earlier projected that the first results would have been received by midnight last night.

At a 22:00 hrs news conference, Singh said he saw no reason why the preliminary results should not reach the commission by midday today, latest.

Results of the voting from 1,894 polling stations countrywide were being transmitted by radio, cellular telephones and in other cases, runners, GECOM said.

The former method was being utilised in the hinterland where the geographical terrain poses tremendous difficulties in reaching the communities, Singh explained.

The GECOM Chairman last night remarked too that Guyana ought not to conduct another election without a complete overhaul of the electoral system. He felt that the system is archaic, bureaucratic and loaded with potential errors which need to be eliminated.

He said the issue of sustainability of the electoral system should also be seriously addressed.

Voters gathered early at polling stations around the country, in many places, before the scheduled 0600 hrs start but polling began late because materials arrived late in some cases.

Around the country, voters reportedly waited patiently in line until hiccups were sorted out.

General Secretary of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Mr Donald Ramotar, said problems were reported to the party and efforts were made with GECOM to find solutions.

Generally, as the day progressed, a lot of these problems were ironed out, officials reported.

As with other places, heavy voting was reported long the East Coast and East Bank Demerara and on the Essequibo Coast.

By first light yesterday there were already long queues at several polling stations in the city as electors tried to outdo each other being first in the lines.

The presidential candidates of the two major political parties, as in the December 1997 elections, voted early.

PPP/C presidential candidate, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo, looking casual in a sports shirt and dark-coloured pants, cast his vote at St Gabriel's Primary School in Queenstown, Georgetown at 07:25 hrs.

PNC/R presidential candidate, Mr Desmond Hoyte, in light blue shirt-jac and grey pants, and accompanied by his wife Joyce, voted minutes after 06:00 hrs at the UNESCO building, Robb and Oronoque Streets, Georgetown.

As happened when members of the Disciplined Services voted on March 12, complaints of names of electors not being on the Official List of Electors (OLE) or the Addendum/Supplement List abounded.

There were also a few electors who showed photographic stubs bearing their names and the signature of a GECOM official but their names were not on any of the two lists produced by GECOM.

Some had their names on the list but were prevented from voting because they did not have the national ID card or a passport.

However, Boodoo at the news conference at the Hotel Tower categorically stated that any elector encountering such problems should be allowed to take an oath.

There was, however, no reprieve for those with the stubs as the commission ruled that no person would have been allowed to vote if their name was not on the voters list or the addendum.

Mr Jagdeo expressed confidence at the polls, saying, "I hope that GECOM has prepared and done everything possible to make sure that every voter who is registered is not disenfranchised today and I'll urge all Guyanese to make sure they go to the polling stations, to persevere, to make sure that they get to vote."

He said he had raised the issue of voters who had stubs but could not vote because their names were not on the list with the commission last week and had indicated that the problem existed countrywide.

The commission, he said, had promised to correct the problem through the addendum but he acknowledged that there were still people whose names were off the list.

Mr Jagdeo, however, reminded that the Commission comprises six Commissioners, three from the Government and three from the opposition, including Chairman Singh who was chosen from a list of six persons submitted by Mr Hoyte.

"They (the Commission) made a decision, it's not new. I think they had indicated this to the parties a week ago that those who are not on the list will not be allowed to vote," he said.

"The decision is the commission's. The PPP/C would have to live with it. We know many cases where people have had this situation, they went to Freedom House with stubs showing they had gone through the process but are not on the list," he added.

He said his party was willing to accept the will of the electorate. "I saw the PNC (Sunday) night urging their supporters to come out and vote peacefully. I've done the same thing and I hope that whenever the results come out that we can all accept the results of the elections and sit down together and work for the future of this country."

Mr Jagdeo said former U.S President Carter and all the international observers have a very important role to play here, to show the world that the elections were free, fair and credible. "I think they will do that by their presence here," he added.

Referring to the issue of power-sharing and the winner-take-all procedure, he said the PPP/C went into the elections with clear rules. "If you know the rules before you get into the game and you agree to play by the rules, then you have to live by the outcome too. And that's what we're waiting for today."

Regarding inclusivity, he said he hoped to meet Mr Hoyte after the results to "sit down and talk about the future of this country."

And on whether he will be willing to offer Cabinet positions to the opposition if the PPP/C wins the elections, Mr Jagdeo replied: "I have a five-year programme to deliver. I've campaigned on a programme. I have to have people who are committed and who share my views in the Cabinet and who are efficient.

"If people share my views, then yes, there could be Cabinet positions but if we can't even be civil to each other, I don't want to take this kind of incivility into the Cabinet."

For Mr Hoyte, the voters list was obviously foremost on his mind.

"The only troubling thing of course is the list. There are too many unacceptable errors. Too many people have been disenfranchised and we'll have to see how those things affect the final outcome."

"There are many people whose names appeared on the preliminary voters list, the revised voters list, but mysteriously disappeared from the OLE. That's the final voters list", he added.

"We did a lot of work to get the names of those people to submit them to the commission and we were assured that these names would be incorporated in an addendum to the OLE but that didn't happen." The PPP/C and the PNC/R reported the same complaints and Mr Hoyte said: "The magnitude of the problem for PPP/C supporters, I don't know. In our case, there are far too many people." PPP/C prime ministerial candidate, Mr Sam Hinds hoped there were not too many people who could not vote, speculating that it may be no more than 3,000 in a total of 440,000 registered voters.

Mr Hinds said the results would be a true reflection of the overall feelings of the electorate.

Mr Stanley Ming, leader of the REFORM section of the PNC said, "things seemed to be going relatively smoothly at most of the locations" he visited during the morning.

He was, however, concerned about the situation that prevailed at South Ruimveldt Secondary School where several persons reportedly had new national identification cards but their names did not appear on any of the lists.

Ming recalled that up until Saturday, GECOM had maintained that those whose names were not on the final voters' list were not entitled to vote. He noted there were also people with stubs whose names were not on the list and who could not vote.

Boodoo at another briefing at 19:30 hrs said the announcement to keep the polls open was to facilitate a meeting between GECOM Chairman, Major General Joe Singh and his Commissioners.

The meeting was summoned after the PNC/R approached the chairman at 17:20 hrs on three popular categories of disenfranchisement which electors faced throughout the day.

Boodoo said a decision was taken to allow the polls to remain open while the meeting was in progress.

However, on realising that the commission could not arrive at a consensus, there was no alternative but to close the polls, Boodoo said.

Asked whether the casting of a vote by the Chairman would have resolved the situation, Boodoo said even if Singh was in a position to cast a ballot, it would have made no difference in the voting.

Lodge voters miss poll close extension By Shirley Thomas A NEWS flash late yesterday afternoon that the Guyana Elections Commission had extended the period of voting beyond 18:00 hrs was well received throughout polling districts in Lodge, Georgetown.

Many persons said they could not have left their workplaces earlier and had not voted by the original 18:00 hrs deadline.

But while many were breathing a sigh of relief, several persons at a polling station in the Lodge Community High School had a different experience. Their time was not extended.

Promptly at 18:00 hrs, the staff at that polling station shut the doors and announced that voting for the day had come to an end.

A crowd, which was beginning to build up outside the gate, indicated to the staff there that GECOM, via the media, had instructed that voting continue.

However, the Presiding Officer claimed that officials had received no such instructions. It was further learnt that a senior district functionary had visited the polling station about 18:00 hrs and advised that voting be discontinued.

Meanwhile, the Presiding Officer expressed surprise that GEOCOM had not contacted the staff there in relation to the extension of time, even though GECOM had given the staff cellular phones to use at the station.

As tension heightened and tempers flared, some electors made efforts to reach GECOM via the hotline numbers publicised and even the Chairman, Major General Joe Singh, but without success. When contacted, GECOM officers in the Public Relations Department said a live televised press conference was in progress and the officers who could have given any directive were engaged there.

By 19:00 hrs, the situation had still not been resolved and electors were advised that the ballot boxes had already been sealed.

This last word worsened a very volatile situation but timely intervention by concerned citizens helped quell the anger of the crowd.

A check made by the polling staff revealed that a minimum 27 persons listed at that station were disenfranchised.

Helping hand

`A LITTLE more ink in my pad keeps it working': former U.S. President Jimmy Carter helps open voting at the Plaisance/Industry polling station by finding ink for the ballot stamp. The polling station had remained closed because there was no ink for the stamp until Carter and one of his bodyguards cut open a fountain pen cartridge and gave poll workers the ink. (Exclusive photo by Jeffrey Gettleman/Los Angeles Times.)

PRESIDENT Jimmy Carter yesterday rendered timely assistance at the Plaisance/Industry polling station to allow some 35 voters who had been waiting for more than half an hour, to cast their ballots.

The former U.S. President who heads a 44-member Carter Center observer mission which includes former Barbados Prime Minister, Erskine Sandiford, arrived at the East Coast polling station at about 06:20 hrs to observe the voting process.

It was his second stop. He started his observation rounds at the Police Sports Club in Georgetown where he was on hand to witness the opening of the polls and voting by some electors.

Arriving at the Plasiance/Industry polling station, President Carter was told by the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) that voting had not commenced, although the centre had opened on time, because the ballots could not be stamped.

This was because the ink in the stamp pad was too dull and there was no spare pad available.

Within minutes of realising the plight, and as the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Election Day official tried desperately to communicate the problem by mobile phone to GECOM, Carter took his fountain pen from his pocket, gave it to a secret serviceman accompanying him to cut the ink cartridge inside, and then poured the ink on the pad.

As he returned the pad to the APO she was heard to remark "it works".

Immediately and with the concurrence of the other officials, President Carter invited the first elector, a dread-locked Godfrey Glasgow, to enter the polling station to vote.

From there President Carter travelled to the Lusignan Community Centre where he also observed the Election Day process.

President Carter who first observed elections here in 1992, began his work at the Police Sports Club where three polling stations were situated, two on the upper floor and one on the lower floor.

He spent some 15 minutes observing the process there and chatting with Election Day officials before leaving. (WENDELLA DAVIDSON)