No evidence of malpractice in results process
- Commonwealth observers in report

Guyana Chronicle
March 31, 2001

THE Commonwealth observers group has reported that it found no evidence of malpractice in the March 19 results process the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) employed.

In a final report released yesterday, the mission announced:

"We paid visits to the Operations Room (of GECOM) at various times throughout each day of the results process in order to observe the process of entering the results into the computer system.

"Although the delay was regrettable, we saw no evidence of malpractice."

The final results were announced early last week Friday morning and GECOM (Guyana Elections Commission) has maintained that its vote count was done under the law.

The March 19 elections was one of the "most closely monitored in the history of the Commonwealth," Guyana High Commission to London, Mr Laleshwar Singh told the Commonwealth at a briefing Thursday.

The Commonwealth team was among several international, regional and local observers that monitored the polls from before the campaign started to after the results were announced.

In its full report, it says:

"So far as these elections are concerned, our main conclusions are as follows:

** the people of Guyana embraced these elections with enthusiasm and commitment to the democratic process;

** the Elections Commission should be congratulated for its efforts to ensure that the elections were held on the appointed day;

** the people were able to express their will, but the shortcomings in the election arrangements detracted from otherwise praiseworthy arrangements: the errors in the Voters' List reduced public confidence in the voting process, while the long delay in producing the results resulted in public concern and rising tension.

On polling day:

** in the places where we observed, there was no evidence of intimidation or abuse of the electoral process; the parties campaigned openly; the voters cast their vote freely; the secrecy of the ballot was assured;

** the polling was properly and impartially carried out in all regions and the count was thorough and transparent;

** party agents showed confidence in the electoral process and co-operated with polling staff in ensuring that voting procedures were efficiently carried out;

** the process was generally peaceful and security arrangements for polling and counting were good;

** in most instances, polling materials were adequate, polling staff were well trained and helpful;

** we noted with approval that women had an important role in the electoral process, although we regret that the electoral system is not as positive from a gender point of view as at first appears."

The mission noted that there had been concern prior to election day regarding the transmission of results.

In 1997 this had not gone well and the Election Commission stated in advance of this election that considerable efforts would be made this time to ensure that the procedures worked effectively, it noted.

The report adds:

"It was always clear that, for logistical reasons, in some places some delay would be inevitable. But it was hoped that with thorough training, clear instructions, additional land telephone lines, fax machines, mobile telephones, UHF and VHF radios and - in one region - a full dress rehearsal beforehand - the results would be transmitted accurately and as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

The method - changed shortly before the election, after the rehearsal revealed shortcomings - was for the Deputy Returning Officer to contact the polling station Presiding Officers in her/his area to obtain the results of the individual polling station counts. The Deputy Returning Officer would then pass these on in batches to the Returning Officer at the Election Commission's district headquarters, who would in turn fax the batches of results to the Election Commission's Georgetown Headquarters.

As Statements of Poll became available these too would be passed on.

Regional totals of these 'official preliminary results' (not individual polling station results) and the distribution of votes between the parties were then displayed at the Election Commission's Media Centre and broadcast on a dedicated television channel.

Later in the process the results from individual polling stations were displayed.

The Election Commission had assembled at its Georgetown headquarters an impressive computerised results system, with several checks and balances to prevent manipulation of the figures by those inputting the data.

However, while international observers were present in the Commission's "Special Operations Room" we noted that no party agents were present while we were there.

There were some problems with the transmission of results. For instance, the telephone reporting system in District Four did not work as expected. Results from that district were also delayed because of the extension in polling hours and the closure of some polling stations even later than had been decided.

There were relatively few reports from the Returning Officers until breakfast-time on the day after the election. However, even after the results had been received in the 'Special Operations Room' there was sometimes a considerable delay in 'publishing' them via the Commission's Media Centre.

Relatively few results had been published by lunchtime on the day after polling.

Delays in the announcement of results can stimulate concern amongst a suspicious and tense electorate, and there were fears that there might be trouble on the streets of Georgetown if - however good the reason - delays continued. The PNC/R did indeed protest at the slowness of the results process.

The results started to come through in significant numbers on the afternoon and evening of 20 March and at an Elections Commission press conference at 8.00 p.m. that night partial preliminary figures were announced for most of the districts. Additional information was released thereafter on the Election Commission's dedicated television channel. By 10.35 a.m. on 21 March the preliminary results which had been produced accounted for 295,264 of the votes cast, 67% of the registered voters.

By 1.04 p.m. the preliminary results available accounted for 325,200 voters (70%). At 3.22 p.m. the figure was 325,977 (74%). At 8.00 p.m. that evening the Chief Elections Officer announced the preliminary results which were then available, which he said were for all Districts except part of District Four. These indicated an 88% turnout for the General Election.

Up to the afternoon of Wednesday 21 March the results were being entered into the Elections Commission Special Operations Room computers directly, first from phone calls and later from Statements of Poll.

However, following a meeting of the Elections Commission that afternoon it was decided to reconcile the figures manually from the Statements of Poll and then compare them with the figures previously entered into the computer.

This followed representations from one of the political parties, which said that it did not have confidence in the computer system. All the Returning Officers were brought in to the Election Commission's Headquarters, apart from the Returning Officer for District Four.

It emerged during the course of the day that four Statements of Poll were missing.

On Thursday 22 March it was reported that a number of Statements of Poll had been mislaid in the Elections Commission headquarters overnight. The figures had already been entered into the computer system.

The manual reconciliation process continued through the day. By 3.00 p.m. it had been completed for all Districts except 4, 6 and 10. At 4.00 p.m. the Returning Officer and staff from Region 4 were brought to the Election Commission headquarters to assist in the reconciliation process.

According to earlier statements by the Elections Commission, the Acting Chief Elections Officer had been due to advise the Elections Commission of the results on the morning of Thursday 22 March. The official announcement of the results, including the allocation of seats, had been expected later that day. Neither took place that day.

The official announcement was eventually made at 4.20 a.m. on the morning of Friday 23 March. The figures showed that 393,709 valid votes had been cast in the General Election.

We paid visits to the Operations Room at various times throughout each day of the results process in order to observe the process of entering the results into the computer system.

Although the delay was regrettable, we saw no evidence of malpractice."

The team in its departure statement had highlighted the need for Guyana to transcend its still largely ethnic politics and find a way to build inclusiveness and unity.

"We believe that these are the pre-eminent challenges before the people and institutions of this country. We hope that the Commonwealth and all other friends of Guyana will stand ready to help in that effort, but recognise that the major responsibility lies with the people themselves", the mission said.