Civil society has crucial trust-building role for free & fair elections - ACDA

by Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
March 13, 2000

Building trust should be a foremost priority for both the political parties contesting the next elections, the various stakeholders and the electorate, because without it, there can be no free and fair elections, nor elections free from fear and intimidation, the African Cultural Development Association (ACDA) has said.

It was also necessary to empower civil society to play a major, independent role in monitoring the elections, backed by the resources to enable it to do so.

These views were put to the two-man European Union-funded Needs Assessment Mission by ACDA at a meeting last week.

Its core contention is that "civil society has a crucial role to play in building trust - a necessary ingredient for free and fair elections."

The EU-funded mission was here to review the country's preparedness to hold general elections by January 17, 2001 and assess the resources required for the efficient delivery of those elections.

A memorandum on its presentation which ACDA has circulated says that it made a number of recommendations for a fair and transparent electoral process, among which were counting and publication of votes at the places of poll and a new register of voters.

It has also recommended the creation of a national timetable with realistic, fixed, publicly-declared deadlines for the electoral process with access to the resources to be provided being linked to them.

ACDA has suggested too that to "avoid past weakness, monitoring of the electoral process should be seen as covering the entire process - from registration to the installation of the new government" and that "resources should be deployed on this principle."

To empower civil society, ACDA recommended that "specific provision should be made to fund civil society participation as scrutineers during the entire registration process."

Also to strengthen the emphasis on scrutiny of the registration process, ACDA recommended too that the electoral lists be published in alphabetical order as well as on a local geographical basis including listing the names by streets in the more built-up areas.

In making its recommendation for a new voters' register, ACDA said that "the situation is one of considerable confusion" given that voter identification cards used at the last elections are in the custody of the court, some of the cards distributed have not been returned to the Elections Commission, and many of the voters have changed their addresses.

As a result it recommended that the new preliminary voters list should contain only those persons who are aged 18 at the qualifying date. A High Court motion has been filed by the Chief Election Officer for the release of the Voter Identification Cards and other election day equipment to facilitate preparation for the upcoming elections.

It said too that an unavoidable priority is the allocation of resources to meet "the special needs of the hinterland areas and itinerant voters."

ACDA is one of the organisations of civil society which the mission has met since its arrival here late last month. It has also met with the political parties including the PPP/C, the PNC, The United Force and the Working People's Alliance.