Elections Watch

Guyana Chronicle
March 28, 2001

Carter says Guyana elections almost perfect
`Nothing like it in U.S.', he says

FORMER United States President Jimmy Carter says the March 19 elections here were almost perfect and elections in the U.S. do not come close to the process in Guyana.

"It was almost a perfect election in that there were no errors basically in the way ballots were marked and later counted," he told CNN television.

"And we don't have anything like that in this country. We have a long way to go in meeting the standards of most democracies on earth", Carter said.

Carter led an observer mission to the elections and told reporters here before leaving, "This has been a good election."

Co-leader of the Carter Center observer mission was former Barbados Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford.

According to CNN, Carter noted that 88 per cent of registered voters in Guyana went to the polls, a turnout far higher than typical for U.S. presidential elections.

"We have about as low a turnout as any developed country on earth and we also have more errors in our voting places than any other country in which I've been involved and we have less incentive to make those corrections," he said.

Carter has wide experience in observing elections in some 30 countries around the world.

Commenting on U.S. elections, he said he has seen elections conducted better in other countries such as Guyana, CNN reported.

According to the American network seen worldwide, Carter said Monday the U.S. does not have an acceptable democratic system because voting systems vary so much among the country's 4,000 counties.

"There's no way really for us to have any uniformity, no way to guarantee that voters' decisions will be counted accurately and there is no way to educate, in advance, a system of voters, say in a particular area like around Atlanta, because we probably have got 10 different ways to vote in this immediate television coverage (area)," Carter said.

He spoke to CNN from the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, which was hosting the first public hearing by the National Commission on Federal Election Reform.

Carter, a Democrat, and former President Gerald Ford, a Republican, are honorary co-chairs of the politically balanced panel.

The commission was organised by the Miller Center of Public Affairs of the University of Virginia and The Century Foundation. It receives no public funds, operating on grants from foundations.

"Today we had experts on voting procedures, we had professors who know the history of our voting laws and we also had elected officials who've actually observed problems and possible solutions in different parts of the world," he told CNN.

Carter said the panel was formed because Americans were embarrassed by last year's presidential voting in Florida, where arguments over half-punched ballots held up the final outcome.

Carter said Florida was not alone in its vote-counting woes, and suggested that several other states, including Georgia, would fare as badly under such close scrutiny.

According to CNN, Carter said the panel is looking at ways to improve "the way that people register, the way that people vote and to guarantee that when their votes are cast that they'll be counted accurately and to make sure that we don't discriminate against voters who might be poorer or live in a precinct that has a bad system."

CNN said he suggested voter turnout in the U.S. could be boosted if Election Day were to fall on a holiday, such as Veteran Day, to make it more convenient for voters to get to the polls.

"Veterans, including myself, would be very proud to have us choose a president and U.S. senators and congressmen and other state officials on our holiday," said Carter.

Carter had also observed the historic October 5, 1992 elections, the first free and fair polls in some 28 years and which marked the restoration of the democratic process here.

Protesters stone cops as unrest continues CROWDS supporting the People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) stoned police deployed around the High Court building yesterday as unrest continued in the city in the wake of the victory of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) at the March 19 elections.

But the situation was not as violent as it was Monday afternoon when groups went on a rampage through city streets, attacking vehicles, a gas station and robbing and beating several persons.

Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis last night said the city was quiet but police were maintaining patrols after crowds dispersed when the PNC/R legal challenge to the swearing-in of President Bharrat Jagdeo was adjourned again.

The hearing is due to continue today.

What commenced with just about 100 people, mainly women, behind police barricades early in the morning grew to a bigger crowd by midday and they began chanting and singing "No Desi, no peace."

Some carried placards supporting PNC/R leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte.

Groups of protesters mysteriously made their way past the barricades and into the vicinity of the High Court.

As the chanting and verbal abuse of the police continued, there was an altercation between a female protester and a female cop in which the latter's clothes were torn and her private parts exposed.

The protesters at one stage charged the police ranks who fired pellets successfully clearing them from the street corners surrounding the court.

Devon Brown, 10, of Ketley Primary School, who was among the crowd, was grazed on the right leg by a pellet fired by the police as they tried to disperse the crowd of disorderly PNC/R supporters.

Following the violence the night before, it was business as usual yesterday morning for some store owners.

But business places began closing by mid afternoon because of the growing fear that protesters might repeat Monday's rampage.

Store owners on that day raced to shut their doors while shoppers and other citizens hurriedly joined vehicles to get out of harm's way as hundreds of PNC/R supporters took to the streets after dispersing from around the High Court building.

Up to late that afternoon, police were forced to use tear gas and fire pellets to break up the crowds around the area of the South Georgetown mini-bus park and the Supreme and Magistrates court.

It was a fierce confrontation between ranks and protesters. They pelted stones and threw back tear gas canisters that the cops had fired.

Yesterday, a similar situation emerged just after 15:00 hrs when the crowd started chanting as they advanced towards the police barricades.

Police swiftly reacted and fired several rounds of pellets after cautioning the protesters.

By that time several stores were already shut and other citizens hurried to the mini-bus parks but many said they waited for hours for transportation.

Others were confused and could not seem to find the mini-buses plying their route since traffic was diverted, especially from the South Georgetown and Berbice mini-bus parks.

There were increased police patrols and armed police ranks were on watch for troublemakers and by nightfall, the protesters had dispersed without having any major confrontation with the police.

Yesterday was regarded as an improvement from the previous day when the protesters took to the streets.

They remained calm after their first outburst and confrontation with the police and peacefully remained behind the police barriers.

During the day, people continued shopping but many stores were partially open and others barred.

Only one entrance to the municipal markets, including Stabroek and Bourda markets, remained open but shoppers complained that stores in the market were closed.

"You cannot get to do the shopping properly", one woman complained.

"The stores that I does buy from, they close up...the people frighten to open and this is affecting my business."

Like many others, she feels that unless the protesting stops, the city will not be back to normal.

Police replaced the barricades the protesters had knocked over.

There was peace and order from then onwards despite slight provocative dancing and mocking of the cops by some in the crowd.

The crowd dispersed after the court hearing was adjourned and police said the city was quiet after.

Police say armed criminals among protesters POLICE last night said they are gravely concerned that "armed criminals" are among persons protesting outside the courts.

In a statement, police headquarters said: "Those who are of criminal intent are bent on causing terror and mayhem in the society."

The statement added:

"This criminal activity is affecting business premises and attendance at schools.

"Innocent citizens are being attacked and robbed and many of those involved in the criminal acts are hiding behind innocent citizens.

"The Guyana Police Force has acted with great tolerance and restraint.

"Members of the force have been injured in ensuing that the laws of the country are maintained.

"Every effort will be made to arrest criminal activities and all citizens are asked to exercise great restraint at this time."

PNC/R legal challenge to President's swearing-in to continue today

by George Barclay

FORMER Elections Commission Chairman, Doodnauth Singh, S.C. yesterday submitted to Chief Justice Desire Bernard that according to the laws of this country, the election of the President could only be challenged in a limited sense through the Guyana Court of Appeal.

The High Court, he said, had no jurisdiction and he urged the Chief Justice to find that the application before the court had no merit and should be dismissed.

Earlier, Mr Roysdale Forde, one of the lawyers representing applicant Joseph Hamilton of the PNC/R, had cited a large number of legal authorities in support of his contention that the court should order the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to do a recount of the votes in compliance with the Validity of Elections Act.

The People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) is trying to block the swearing-in of President Bharrat Jagdeo as the new President after his PPP/C won the March 19 elections.

According to Forde, GECOM had been using tally sheets instead of Statements of Poll in order to determine the votes cast in favour of each list of candidates in breach of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03.

He argued that the failure of the Returning Officers to comply with Section 84 (1) of the Representation of the People Act Chapter 1:04 materially and substantially affected the entire electoral process and the result was unlawful, ultra vires, null and void.

Yesterday was the fourth day of hearing.

Among other things, Forde claimed there was no tabulation of votes of the Statements of Poll as was requested under the Act.

He submitted that there had been substantial non-compliance with Section 84 and declared that the Court had jurisdiction to enquire into the matter.

At this stage the Chief Justice noted that the dispute might call for the taking of evidence and cross-examination which might take it out of the range of a prerogative writ and into an election petition.

Noting that GECOM Chairman Major General Joe Singh in his affidavit had denied all the allegations as set out in the applicant's affidavit, she said that once the issues have been joined it would take them out of the sphere of prerogative writs.

Mr Doodnauth Singh, addressing the court, referred to what had taken place on March 19 to prove that the elections were transparent and fair.

According to him, everything was done in compliance with the law.

Singh noted that when the Chief Elections Officer made his declaration of the results, he was questioned and was able to explain that he was in receipt of the returns of each returning officer which were all signed.

Therefore, he said, contrary to the applicant's affidavit the declaration was proper and in keeping with the Act which provides for the person elected as President to assume office.

Consequently, he pointed out that Mr Jagdeo was properly elected President of Guyana.

Singh went on to cite the case of Eusi Kwayana where it was held by the Guyana Court of Appeal that the High Court did not have jurisdiction to hear a challenge to the President's election.

Any challenge would have to be to the Court of Appeal and only in a limited way, he submitted.

On the basis of the Kwayana case, he pointed out the court's jurisdiction of a person who has assumed the office of President can only be invoked by the Court of Appeal and in a limited way.

Mr Ralph Ramkarran, for the President, in his presentation, submitted that the affidavit by the applicant cannot be subjected to any prerogative remedy.

He stressed: "They cannot come for an elections petition remedy under the disguise of a prerogative remedy."

Mr Khemraj Ramjattan, like Singh, referred to a number of legal authorities to support his view that the applicant's case had no merit.

He referred to the number of Statements of Poll which were placed on the polling places all over the country after the count, and declared that that in itself was a public declaration, in accordance with the statutory provision.

At 6 p.m. yesterday Ramjattan gave way to Mr Ashton Chase, S.C. who appears for GECOM.

Mr Chase said that because of the time he preferred to make his presentation at 9.30 a.m. today.

The Chief Justice accepted the suggestion, pointing out that Mr Basil Williams for Hamilton will respond thereafter.

But Williams asked for Friday to respond claiming that the volume of cases cited by the other side would prevent him from doing the necessary research to reply this morning, if he is to do justice to his client's case.

He urged the Chief Justice to adjourn the matter to Friday but the application was refused.

Earlier in the afternoon, the sound of pellets fired by police to disperse a yelling crowd while Mr Singh was addressing the court, caused the Chief Justice to adjourn the court for a brief session, earlier than planned.

Sabotage at Belladrum bridge
by Stacey Davidson and Calvin Marshall

THE main bridge at Belladrum, West Coast Berbice was burnt early yesterday morning in what police said was an act of sabotage linked to the post-elections unrest that started along the East Coast Demerara last week.

The bridge is on the main road linking Georgetown to the port at Rosignol and the semi-destruction threw normal traffic into chaos.

But officials moved swiftly to begin rebuilding the bridge which was set on fire from its planks underneath.

A part of the bridge went up in flames early yesterday morning and the police subsequently cordoned off the area, which prevented the flow of traffic.

Persons had to use a side dam and then a narrow bridge to get access to the road for transportation to head to work or to conduct their business at places along the road on either side of the bridge.

Later in the day, the bridge was opened and mini-buses and cars were traversing on the unaffected side of the bridge.

Residents said they awoke to find the area surrounded by policemen, not realising that the bridge had been razed.

Mr Patrick King, a villager, said he had travelled on the bridge at midnight and it was not destroyed then.

He knew about the fire when some police officers went to his neighbour's home to borrow a pump, he said.

King said someone must have gone into the village and set the bridge afire to create a bad image on the residents of Belladrum.

The residents are baffled as to why someone would commit such an act to destroy the community.

He said the villagers had never experienced anything like this before.

Belladrum was also at the centre of a rumour in Georgetown Monday that four men had been killed in the village.

Police and residents said no one had been killed in Belladram.

As a result of the rumours Monday, Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis placed massages on TV stations advising that no one had been killed in Belladrum.

Repairs on the bridge began yesterday afternoon after a team of technicians was dispatched by the Ministry of Public Works and Communication to assess the damage.

The technical team headed by Mr Walter Willis took the necessary measurements of the bridge.

When the Chronicle visited the site, workmen were busy clearing the debris and resurfacing the edges to strengthen the southern section of the bridge which was not damaged, to allow heavy-duty vehicles to cross.

Public Relations Adviser to the Ministry of Public Works and Communication, Mr Ajay Baksh said the bridge will be rebuilt with steel to guard against similar occurrences in the future.

He said materials, which included steel beams have been sorted out and were to have been transported to the area yesterday afternoon, but this will be done today, because the employees feared they might have been caught up in any post election disturbances on their way to the area.

The Courtney Benn Contracting Services firm was awarded the contract to rebuild the bridge, which should be completed later this week, Baksh noted.

He said Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, Mr Anthony Xavier has appealed to persons that if they are aware of the culprits who destroyed the bridge, to plead with them to desist from committing this, because money budgeted for the construction of projects has to be spent to repair damaged structures and residents will stand to lose.

Reports of the burning of the Belladrum bridge put a damper on the travelling public in Berbice, especially on the eastern side of the Berbice River.

After the news broke, scores of mini-bus operators and commuters going to the city or other places on the East Coast Demerara were forced to abandon their trips.

Between 6:00 to 8:00 hrs is the time when activities usually pick up at the New Amsterdam and Rosignol stellings for crossings by ferry vessels across the river on a working day.

But with the bridge sabotaged, the atmosphere at that time yesterday was like it is on holidays.

The long lines of mini-buses, cars, trucks and other vehicles, passengers queuing for tickets and frenzied bus operators and touts for patronage were non-existent.

The two ferry boats plying the Berbice River crossing did so with an almost empty lower deck, while commuters were mostly school children.

On the 14:45 hrs (2:45 p.m.) crossing from Rosignol, only 10 vehicles were on board and eight were waiting to cross from New Amsterdam.

Reports reaching the Chronicle said that a family travelling to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri had to take off their shoes to cross the trench at Belladrum and join another vehicle on the road on the other side of the bridge to get to the airport.

Persons who were caught in the dilemma at that West Coast Berbice village crossed in small boats to join other public transportation for the remainder of their journey.

Business was been severely interrupted for many sawmillers, market vendors with cash crops and other produce who travel daily to ply their trade.

Berbice business people said they have lost millions of dollars in trade since the unrest began last week on the East Coast Demerara when PNC/R supporters blocked roads and damaged bridges after results showed the party had lost the elections.

PPP/C calls on PNC/R to end silence on unrest
- warns against `wild rumours' being spread

THE People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) yesterday said it has noted the "deafening silence" of the opposition PNC/R and its leader Mr Desmond Hoyte in the face of deliberate acts of unrest and efforts to instigate violence in certain parts of Guyana.

In a statement, it called on the PNC/R (People's National Congress/Reform) to "end this silence" and for Mr Hoyte to disassociate himself and his party from those elements seem bent on creating disorder.

"The time has come for Mr Hoyte to disassociate himself and his party from those elements seem bent on creating disorder," the PPP/C said.

"Further, the PNC/R must restrain its candidates and other representatives who spew race hate speech and call for violence on the television."

The PPP/C also urged representatives of civil society to join the call on the PNC/R and all Guyana to support an immediate restoration of order in the affected areas in the country.

Guyanese should be wary of wild rumours being whispered in the streets of Georgetown and echoed on certain television talk shows, it advised.

The governing alliance said these are only intended to instigate violence and create civil unrest.

According to the PPP/C, a recent example of the rumour mill causing major disruptions was Monday afternoon when it was rumoured in Georgetown that four persons had been killed in West Berbice.

As the rumours spread, Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis issued messages on TV advising that no one had been killed in Belladram, West Berbice.

Residents in the village also said no one had been killed there.

The PPP/C pointed out that this lie was spread among the large crowd that was gathered outside of the High Court Monday afternoon and resulted in a "melee".

The unruly crowd charged past police barricades, attacked citizens and damaged several private properties and vehicles, the PPP/C pointed out.

Several persons were also beaten and robbed by the violent eruption caused by the rumour, it said.

According to the PPP/C, what was even more distressing is that an Attorney-at-Law representing the PNC/R in the current case in the High Court before Chief Justice Desiree Bernard, repeated the same rumour in court.

"It is our understanding that the Chief Justice has (yesterday) commented on this irresponsible conduct," the PPP/C said.

In addition, it again condemned acts of disruption along the East Coast Demerara and the burning of the Belladrum bridge yesterday morning.

These acts of destruction and violence will benefit no one and the country, as a whole, will suffer, the PPP/C said.

It noted that the "rumour mills" were working overtime.

"Bile, lies and slanders are being produced and disseminated at an alarming rate across the country, especially in Georgetown," the PPP/C said.

"No doubt this is part of a deliberate campaign to create unrest, inflame tensions and stir up violence in our country," the PPP/C added.

Chief Justice urges lawyers
'Don't act on rumours'

CHIEF Justice Desiree Bernard now hearing the application for a Prohibitive Writ against President Bharrat Jagdeo taking the oath of office, yesterday bemoaned the false notion by protestors who think she has the power to declare the 2001 elections null and void.

She made it clear that she does not have that power in relation to the Prohibitive Writ application, and begged the lawyers representing the applicant to take steps to let the protestors know the truth.

The Chief Justice also rebuked two of the lawyers for the applicant for acting on rumors and referred to an incident the day before when Mr Roysdale Forde told her in open court that he had heard news that the Police had shot four persons at Belladrum.

Forde promptly responded that all he did was to relate information that was told to him while he was on his feet and he thought it prudent to bring it to the attention of the court.

At this stage Mr Basil Williams denied that he had said that the men were shot to death and that the allegation by his colleague that he had done so was false.

Williams, a PNC/R candidate in the March 19 elections, also claimed that he had no connection with the protesters outside the court and blamed the other side and the Elections Commission for creating the situation which caused the people to protest, asking that their votes be counted.

Mr Khemraj Ramjattan and Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C. disclaimed all blame for the crowd and declared that the crowd could be controlled by the applicant's lawyers, Mark Benschop and the PNC/R.

Williams retaliated by telling the Court that Mr Singh had created a one-man mob in relation to the 1997 elections and declared that the present situation had arisen because the Guyana Elections Commission had refused to count the votes of the PNC/Reform.

During the outburst, Williams claimed that if the right thing was done, there would be no need for protest and asked the judge to find that the GECOM was responsible for the chaotic situation in the country.

At this stage the Chief Justice said that she was satisfied that the lawyers for the applicants were not responsible for the behaviour of the crowd and urged the lawyers on both sides to strive for peace and not conflict.

Islamic Trust appeals for political settlement

THE Guyana Islamic Trust is appealing to President Bharrat Jagdeo, People's National Congress/Reform leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte and the leadership of their parties to negotiate a political settlement to end the current post-elections impasse.

In a release, the Trust urged the leaders to "behave maturely and in good faith, and to negotiate in a spirit of compromise, a political settlement that will quickly bring an end to the current impasse and one which will engender an arrangement for power sharing and good governance.

"Although one may not want to embrace the Carter formula indiscriminately, in our humble estimation it does suggest a viable way forward towards healing political wounds, bringing the racial divide and promoting inclusiveness in Government.

"We also implore the law-enforcement agencies to act responsibly and with maximum restraint in the execution of their duty to maintain law and order. It is not without justification that the police force has often been criticised for excessive use of force," the Trust said.

It noted that this is indeed a critical period in the life of the country, one that demands maturity, understanding, patience and compromise, not only from the political leadership but from the entire populace.

"Collectively, we must respect the choice of the Guyanese people who have turned out in unprecedented numbers and have peacefully made their mark through the electoral process.

"Notwithstanding several hiccups in the system, it has justifiably earned the endorsement of GECOM through consensus and that of the many overseas observer missions. In this regard all Guyanese have won," the Trust added.

It said additionally, people have demonstrated not only their love for the country and concern for its future, but also their commitment to live and work for peace, harmony and prosperity for all.

The Trust noted that there are compelling reasons for the political leadership to also commit themselves to these ideals and to work, sincerely and genuinely, to give meaning and expression to this vision of a 'new society'.

"Therefore, as Guyana turns its focus on the post-elections era, we must all continue to work for a peaceful, harmonious, just and prosperous society.

"Our vision must be of a society that holds hope and a bright future for all our people."

"Finally, the GIT calls on all Guyanese to put the good of Guyana first and to show respect for each other, regardless of race, creed or political persuasion," the Trust said.

Ishmael urges OAS to support democratic process in Guyana

DR ODEEN Ishmael, Guyana's Ambassador to Washington and Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS), yesterday briefed the organisation on the current situation in Guyana.

He said forces here were not willing to accept the democratic process and "are using non-legal measures to hold the elected government to ransom."

He spoke at the special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the OAS resolution on representative democracy.

He said the commemoration of the anniversary of the passing of Resolution 1080 "comes at a significant time in the history of my own country."

Referring to the March 19 elections, he said the people of Guyana held the third democratic elections since our independence in 1966.

"For emphasis, it is the third one since October 1992. However, as occurred in 1992, 1997 and currently, there are forces which cannot and would not accept the democratic process, and are using non-legal measures to hold the elected government to ransom."

Ishmael told the OAS that President Bharrat Jagdeo, with his party, the People's Progressive Party-Civic (PPP/C), was re-elected with 53 per cent of the total votes.

The elections were conducted by an independent Elections Commission and

witnessed by a number of international bodies, including the OAS, he noted.

"...an air of tension pervades many parts of the country. Such tension is a fertile breeding ground for rumours which inject fear in the minds of the ordinary people.

"The spreading of hostile rumours, as I indicated when we discussed the Guatemalan situation in this chamber a few weeks ago, amount to what I termed as `psychological terrorism'", Ishmael said.

He recalled the unrest along the East Coast last week and other incidents and said "such action gives the impression that some forces are not willing to accept the democratic decision of the people."

He said the Opposition "must represent its supporters by acting in a responsible manner and providing checks and balances to the Government through the parliamentary process."

"It must also participate in positive ways to work with the Government in developing programmes which will be beneficial to its constituents."

He noted that President Jagdeo has already stated that his new administration will be inclusive and is ready to work out modalities for the participation of the Opposition parties in the Government.

"It is hoped that the Opposition, particularly the main opposition party, will reach out to clasp the hand of friendship and inclusiveness offered by the President."

Ishmael called on the OAS, member states, and the international community as a whole, to support the democratic process in Guyana and to urge all political parties to establish lines of cooperation which can surely assist in the growth of a healthy democratic culture in the country.

"At the same time this organisation and the international community must roundly condemn any act that undermines the democratic process in the country."

He warned that if there are political groups that want to achieve power by non-constitutional means, "their existence and actions present a direct threat to democracy in this hemisphere."

"They must reform themselves and accept and practise democratic behaviour", he said.

"While Resolution 1080 helps to defend democracy, its fundamental weakness is that it can be applied only after a threat of destabilisation reduces the effectiveness of the democratically elected government and eventually forces it from power against the wishes of the electorate.

"The question the OAS must now ask itself is this: Must it sit back while a democratic government is pressured by forces which act contrary to democracy; or

should it help to develop forms of preventive diplomacy, including the

application of conflict-resolution mechanisms, to defend such a democratic government against the forces of destabilisation?", he said.

Essequibo NDC pleads for peace

THE Chairman and members of the Good Hope/Pomona Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) on the Essequibo Coast are calling on all Guyanese, churches and other organisations across the country to work to let peace and goodwill prevail.

According to a release from Chairman of the NDC, Mr Showkat Ally, all councillors at a statutory meeting endorsed the call for Guyanese to unite and live as brothers and sisters.

The release said councillors also congratulated President Bharrat Jagdeo and the People's Progressive Party/Civic on their victory at the recent national and regional elections.

The Imam and members of the Aurora Jamaat have also expressed congratulations to President Jagdeo on his victory as President of the Republic of Guyana and also called on all Guyanese to forget hatred and embrace each other with love. - (Rajendra Prabhulall)

NGO Forum calls on all to eschew violence

THE NGO FORUM, which represents religious groups, workers and other sectors of civil society, is calling on all Guyanese leaders at community and national levels to eschew violence and promote peace and civility.

In a statement yesterday, the Forum said it seems to have become the norm for national elections to be followed by violence, mistrust and tension, which seriously affect the nation's development and does not bode well for the future.

"In spite of the unenviable, Herculean task faced by the Guyana Elections Commission, most Guyanese are of the view that the March 19 elections were as free and fair as they could have been, given the prevailing difficulties and impossible deadlines."

Guyana owes a debt of gratitude to the members and staff of the Commission, it said.

"We are heartened by the public calls for peace and calm that have been made by various political, social and religious leaders, and are particularly encouraged by statements made by senior leaders in the People's National Congress/Reform and the People's Progressive Party/Civic in this regard.

"We sincerely look forward to the commencement of serious dialogue on inclusive government between the two parties," the Forum added.

The group also condemned the attack on Commission member, Mr. Haslyn Parris, saying it is deeply concerned that persons holding constitutional offices cannot expect the support of the public in the exercise of their constitutional functions and duties.

It noted that if such a situation escalates, no branch of government, including the judiciary, can function free from fear.

"The future of Guyana is in a very delicate balance. It is imperative that all of our leaders work together to wrought a common Guyanese homeland in which everyone can be secure, have equal access to the resources of the state, and be afforded opportunities to participate in every aspect of Guyana's development."

"This is the challenge that confronts us as a nation," the Forum said.

It called on other civil society leaders, especially in religious, trade union and private sector organisations, to forge a process for national reconciliation.

The Forum urged that they actively engage all sectors of the society in dialogue for the creation of strategies and mechanisms to engender confidence by all in governmental systems and structures so as to promote a pervasive sense of security and belonging.

"We also commit ourselves and our organisations to work steadfastly for a united Guyana," it pledged.