Monday's voting very good
- Carter Says winner should offer hand of cooperation

By William Walker
Stabroek News
March 21, 2001

In a preliminary position on Monday's election former US President Jimmy Carter described polling day as very good and he implored the winning party to offer the hand of cooperation to the opposition.

With the absence of conclusive results the Carter Center stated it was "too early to evaluate the election as a whole. Ultimately the Guyanese people will judge the electoral process". Carter expressed "deep concern" over the lack of information coming out of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). Carter as head of a 44-member delegation will be leaving this morning without a clear indication of the outcome of the elections.

At a press briefing at Le Meridien Pegasus yesterday Carter recalled that at 9.30 am observers were informed of results for some 76,000 ballots but up to 4.30 pm GECOM had released to the public only results for 46,000. (GECOM last night updated these figures.) Carter said that the delay would create doubts in the electorate. He reportedly went into GECOM at 2 pm yesterday afternoon and urged officials to speed up the process. The concern over the delays was echoed by Mark Stevens head of the European Union observer group and by CARICOM and Commonwealth officials.

Meanwhile, Carter said of the 380 stations personally observed by the Carter Center mission only three had serious problems and these occurred after polls were supposed to be closed. There were two instances in Region Four where groups of persons not totalling more than twenty were allowed to vote although they were not on the list. Carter said this was statistically insignificant. The impact of procedural errors and omissions from the list would only become apparent in a marginal race.

In a preliminary statement read by Erskine Sandiford, co-leader of the team, the Carter Center said "the electoral process was generally peaceful and orderly throughout the country and delegations reported a high turnout in all regions. The delegation found citizens eagerly but patiently waiting in many areas sometimes in long lines to exercise their right to vote."

The release noted "the most common area of concern was the voters list. GECOM has stated the list is 95% accurate, leaving a five percent margin of error. All political parties have expressed concerns about the accuracy of the final voters list. The limited Carter Center observation data has to date not shown major systematic irregularities in the list is difficult to ascertain the magnitude of this issue at this point given there are no uniform mechanisms for tracking these complaints."

"The closing of polls and ballot count. Nearly all of the Carter Center observation teams reported confusion at the closing of polling stations. Many polling officials received instructions through GECOM personnel, the media or others to allow voting after the scheduled closing time. Some polls that had been closed were reopened. Delegations deployed in Georgetown reported a rush of individuals during this period at some polling stations, while delegates in other regions reported few or no voters during this period. Without clear instructions from GECOM, polling officials were uncertain whether to allow or to proceed with closing and the tabulation of results."

This observation was corroborated by teams from the European Mission who returned to South Georgetown yesterday having been threatened by crowds late Monday.

The Carter Center statement continued that its delegates "observed the counting and tabulation of ballots at 21 sites .....the teams found that the administrative process during closing made the vote count extremely slow at most of the sites observed."

Stabroek News understands that a senior diplomat observed counting in a Georgetown station until 12.30 am. After closing, the staff was forced to secure the doors after crowds became restless.

The centre notes that polling officials were professional, well organised and impartial.

Carter also praised the peaceful persistence of polling day staff and of voters. He made an impassioned call for the leaders to be similarly dedicated in bringing the nation together. Guyana faced two options after the elections, Carter said; to either continue on a path of sharp political and ethnic divisions resulting in a minimum of social and economic progress; or to face a future in as unified a fashion as possible with two parties committed to communication.

And Carter pointed out the way forward lay in the unfinished constitutional reforms which would reduce the powers of the presidency and put them in the hands of the parliament. The victor in these elections must be willing to put these final reforms into effect. The inherited "winner takes all" system must be changed by Guyanese people; the Chancellor of the Judiciary should be chosen in such a way so everyone has confidence in the integrity of the legal system; the Auditor General must be chosen in a similar way; important contracts should be decided in bilateral parliamentary committees. Carter said over the years he had spoken to the leaders of both parties and they had agreed privately that these changes needed to be made.

But in the past the victorious party has not had the sensitivity or grace to offer the hand of cooperation to a party that quite often had no grace in defeat. There had to be goodwill which he said had not seemed to exist. Carter noted that this was the only country the centre has observed that still had vituperative advertising and campaigning even on election day. He prayed that this "great country endowed with enormous human and mineral resources" could prosper. Carter recalled he and his wife Rosalyn had been fascinated at the sight of three holy books in polling stations for use in the oath of identity. It was an indication of the country's deep religious beliefs and such faith was conducive to a spirit of forgiveness.