Poll was a success - Elections Commission
Concerns raised over `disenfranchisement'

Stabroek News
March 20, 2001

Yesterday's crucial general elections have been declared a success by the Elections Commission despite concerns over disenfranchisement and the country will await with bated breath the results today and the reactions of the main parties.

Confusion reigned yesterday over whether the polls had been extended beyond the six o'clock deadline or not and many stations up and down the coast stayed open in contravention of the stipulated closing time. The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) had at one point contemplated extending voting following an approach by the People's National Congress REFORM (PNC/R) but later decided against it.

Up to press time the PNC/R was still assessing voting and was hopeful over the results while the PPP/Civic said it was sure that the glitches would not detract from the final results. (See stories in this edition.)

Despite the disenfranchisement of an unknown number of voters, chairman of the Commission, Major General (rtd) Joe Singh told reporters at the Commission's media centre at Tower Hotel that given the amount of work that had been done by the Secretariat he believed that the polling day exercise was a success. He said the counting of votes was going ahead as planned last night at the various stations. (See some results obtained by Stabroek News on page 18.)

He stressed at the 10 pm press conference that the voter list system had to be reviewed describing it as archaic, bureaucratic and fraught with the potential for errors.

About the delay in the closing of poll, Singh explained that this had been done to allow for the Commission to consider the representations of the PNC REFORM about three categories of persons who had been unable to vote.

The three categories were persons in possession of new national identification cards but whose names were not on the Official List of Electors (OLE) or the Addendum; persons who were on the list but not in the division or even the district at times in which they lived; and persons in possession of photographic stubs as evidence of a completed registration transaction.

Singh said the decision was taken following representations from two members of the donor community who were convinced there was merit in the representations being made by the PNC/R. Also they said that there was need to defuse the tension that was building up as a result of the dissatisfaction and frustration among those who genuinely felt that they were being disenfranchised through no fault of their own. Stabroek News understands that the two donor community representatives were UNDP Resident Representative, Richard Olver and Canadian High Commissioner Jacques Crete.

The Commission chairman said that to accommodate the consultation with the other six members of the Commission, he requested the Chief Election Officer (CEO)(ag), Gocool Boodoo, to have the polling stations remain open until a decision on the representation had been made.

The consultation by phone, the Commission chairman said began at around 5:45 pm - poll were supposed to close at 6 pm - and by 6:18 pm a decision had been made by a 4-2 vote not to extend the close of poll.

The Commission is comprised of six commissioners, three of whom: Dr Keshav `Bud' Mangal, Moen McDoom SC and Mahmood Shaw were nominated by the PPP/Civic and Lloyd Joseph, Haslyn Parris and Robert Williams by PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte, in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition after consultations with the leaders of The United Force and the Alliance for Guyana.

Singh said that the CEO was advised of the decision against a further extension and at 6:33pm he issued the order that the polls be closed but that those persons still in the queue at that time should be allowed to vote.

He acknowledged receiving reports that some polling stations had been opened until 9 pm, and that the Returning Officer will be submitting a report to the CEO on the reasons for the occurrence.

Singh asserted too that despite the delayed closure of the poll that the timeline for the announcement of the unofficial preliminary results would be around midday today with the final results being announced sometime before midday on Thursday after a specially convened meeting to receive them from the Chief Election Officer.

Singh acknowledged that with a projected 95 per cent list accuracy some 22,000 persons were likely to be disenfranchised and that of these 9,000 alone would be in Region 4, which had a 192,000-voter roll. Observers point out that this projected disenfranchisement would impact on all party strongholds in the same way.

Singh said that the statistical reality did not take account of the human dimension. He apologised to those who were disenfranchised but stressed the need for a more sustained exercise at preparing for elections rather than the episodic efforts that were traditionally made.

He stressed that another two or three weeks of preparation would not have made a dramatic impact on the number of those persons with ID cards who were omitted from the Official List of Electors, those persons who were on the list in divisions or even districts distant from those in which they were normally domiciled and those with photographic stubs.

He explained that one explanation for a person being listed in a division or district other than one in which the person is normally domiciled could be that when the photographic transaction was completed the Commission's staff was not informed that the person had completed the rest of the transaction in another district.

About persons whose transfers had not been effected, Singh said that this could have been the result of the person not having been on the list in the first place. As a result when the information reached the Information Systems Department, the computer did not process the name.

However, Singh acknowledged that errors had occurred as the result of inaccurate fieldwork and encoding errors.

About the early morning hiccups, the Commission chairman said that once the administrative glitches were addressed, the polling proceeded smoothly, These glitches related to the absence of indelible ink for staining the voters' fingers and for the stamp pad as well as the six-digit stamp for identifying the ballots.

He said that the turnout - as was anticipated - was heavy overall especially in the morning in both the hinterland and coastal regions.

Earlier, Boodoo said that the PNC REFORM's late approach to Singh triggered the problem of the late closing of poll stations and denied suggestions that the concerns raised by it had been largely ignored by the Commission's secretariat. He explained that many of the complaints made by the PNC/R had been addressed and the Secretariat had been able to locate on the OLE a number of the names submitted to it.

But PNC REFORM chairman, Robert Corbin, said that his party was disappointed that the Commission had not addressed the same complaints, which had been submitted to it some time before yesterday.

PPP/Civic officials shared the Commission's assessment of the atmosphere in which the poll was conducted.

PPP/Civic general secretary Donald Ramotar told a mid-morning Freedom House press briefing at his party's media centre at Freedom House that though there were hiccups that the voting was orderly. He said that the hiccups could be attributed to the polling day staff taking some time in getting to grips with their duties.

Dr Bheri Ramsarran, the PPP/Civic's chief scrutineer who was with Ramotar told reporters about the procedural inconsistency among the Presiding Officers as some were insisting on the use of MRCs as a means of identification.

He said that he had been in contact with the Commission so that it could assure the Presiding Officers that once a person's name was on the list there was no need for the MRC.

Dr Ramsarran also complained about being unable up to yesterday morning to obtain Certificates of Employment for his party's polling agents particularly those assigned to polling stations outside the division in which they were registered. His PNC REFORM counterpart, PNC general secretary, Oscar Clarke experienced the same difficulty.

Dr Ramsarran said that he could not understand the delay since the names of those involved had been sent to the Commission several weeks before but that there had been some difficulty in finding the MRCs for some of them.

About the absence of the six-digit stamp, Dr Ramsarran said that his reports identified polling stations in Section K Campbellville and the Smith Memorial School as among those without them.

Dr Ramsarran also complained that activists of some of the political parties were breaching the law prohibiting interference with voters in the queue while within 200 yards of the polling station.

He said too that there two or three cases reported to the party of people who had been placed in their wrong divisions and whom the party had assisted in finding the correct divisions.

In addition to the unnofficial preliminary results, the Carter Center is also expected to announce its preliminary findings following the work of its 44-man team yesterday. The center was also expected to do a quick count of the votes, the results of which would not be made public.

Up to 2 am today, the Commission's media centre had been unable to deliver results.