Elections Watch

Stabroek News
March 26, 2001

Election violence fuelled by baseless rumours -GHRA

Election-related violence targeting Afro-Guyanese, believed to be responsible in some way for the PPP/Civic election victory, must be condemned without reservation, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) said in a release on Saturday.

Stating that "every Guyanese should consider it a special duty to promote peace and prevent racial harassment, the GHRA noted that all the recent incidents of violence were fuelled by baseless rumours and instigators who encouraged young people to set fires and break bottles.

PPP/Civic parliamentarian Odinga Lumumba, PNC REFORM Commissioner Haslyn Parris, and GAP/WPA party agent, Desmond Trotman - who was mistaken for a PPP/Civic agent - were the most notable Afro-Guyanese casualties of the violence, the GHRA said.

Allegations, the release said, have also been made by the PPP/Civic of attacks on three of its polling agents of Afro-Guyanese descent in Georgetown. Afro-Guyanese workers from the Elections Commission have also been singled out for attack.

In the violence, the release said that the fact must not be overlooked that the majority of villagers resisted attempts to be drawn into violent conflict and in a number of cases, protected Indo-Guyanese who found themselves caught up in the melee. It was noted that Afro-Guyanese at Plaisance restrained others from doing violence to a group of Indo-Guyanese construction workers on a school site and from destroying a vehicle owned by an Indo-Guyanese.

A strategy, the GHRA said is needed to help villagers on the ground to resist the destabilising influence of rumours.

However, the release said that rumours will continue to be virulent as long as some private media are allowed to persist in sewing fear and hatred and because state media information is not trusted.

The GHRA said that while it was heartening that so many East Coast villagers resisted the troublemakers, they must be supported and strengthened by those in authority.

The release said religious and other community organisations should become networks to share accurate information in order to put a stop to rumours. Teachers and those in a position to influence young people must find ways of helping them to resist manipulation.

The GHRA said that from what it had been able to ascertain, rumours from outside the village about election results fuelled initial disturbances of the peace in Buxton on Wednesday. These escalated into more serious acts of violence and vandalism when the police intervened in a manner some reports suggest was over-reactive.

According to the GHRA young men and young women were used extensively by instigators to set fires and throw stones at the police. In one village, the release said that a mother supervised her two teen-aged sons in breaking bottles on the Railway Embankment Road.

The GHRA also contended that outside elements first instigated locals to break bottles, burn tyres and block highways. It was also rumoured that Buxton people were marching to beat up Plaisance people who voted for the PPP/Civic. Similar rumours also circulated in Beterverwagting.

The GHRA said that ordinary citizens were generally indignant at their villages being targeted for political violence by outside elements. These villages, both Indo and Afro-Guyanese have to contend with rising levels of unemployment and drop-outs involved with drugs and alcohol who are especially vulnerable to outside provocation.

While the main protest was played out in the Afro-Guyanese communities, Indo-Guyanese communities were also caught up in the fear of violence and few slept. (Back to top)

Islamic group calls on stakeholders to accept poll results

The Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) is appealing to all stakeholders to accept the results of the general and regional elections so that the task of nation-building can proceed.

In a release, the CIOG also called on "all the leaders of political parties and the Guyanese nation to respect the will of the people as evidenced by the election".

According to the CIOG, the Elections Commission did an excellent job in view of the human, material and time constraints under which it was forced to operate.

Commending the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Major General (retd) Joe Singh, the Commissioners and the staff of GECOM for conducting an orderly, peaceful and virtually incident-free elections, the CIOG also commended the electorate for voting in an orderly and peaceful manner.

The CIOG noted that the local and international observers have confirmed that proper procedures were adhered to and the polls met international benchmarks. Based on these, the CIOG said it accepts the results of the elections and was satisfied with the transparency and the integrity of the process. (Back to top)

Closed or opened? One might wonder while driving pass the Kwality Supercentre on Regent Street if it is open for business or closed because of the metal barriers erected in front of the building. Well stop wondering, it is open and has been open since last week Monday even though the barriers were there. The supercentre like many other businesses took precautionary measures in light of the election season. Only one of its doors was open yesterday. (Lawrence Fanfair photo)

PNC/R charges of padded roll unfounded - Joe Singh

The PNC REFORM (PNC/R) continues to allege that there was padding of the voters list for the March 19 elections but it is an allegation that Elections Commission chairman, Maj Gen (rtd) Joe Singh believes is unfounded.

In a statement issued on Saturday night, the PNC/R said that among factors which affected the elections according to its analysis was the "size of the voters list (440,185) and the obvious padding notwithstanding (the Guyana Elections Commission) GECOM's efforts to provide an acceptable list."

It said that it supports the call by the European Union Long Term Observer Group in its March 21, 2001 statement "for a thorough external audit of the computer software and systems" of the Commission's Information Systems Department.

The Commission has already initiated an independent audit of the Official List of Electors (OLE) - the final voters list - and the database from which it was generated.

Singh told Stabroek News yesterday that until the PNC REFORM can adduce evidence to the contrary, he cannot accept that the list was padded. He stressed that the 440,185 names on the list were those persons who were photographed under the scrutiny of agents from the PNC REFORM and the other parties which contested the election.

The PNC/R also restated its concern about the 439,000 persons photographed and the number of persons omitted from the list in the light of the fact that a number of cards issued "were found to have photographs taken since (the) 1996 registration (exercise)". The statement noted that "the GECOM had given (the) assurance that all old photographs would be destroyed and only new photographs would be used on National ID cards."

"The PNC/R feels that the flaws identified above affected the actual results of the elections. Further the manner of the dislocation of electors from their original addresses and other flaws leave no doubt that there was deliberate manipulation of the voters list intended to disenfranchise its supporters and enhance the chances of the PPP/C." This particular claim by the PNC/R has been denied in many quarters and it has been pointed out that the omissions were systematic and occurred in all parts of the country.

President Bharrat Jagdeo said at a press conference on Friday that his party's supporters were also affected particularly those outside Georgetown.

Among the other flaws identified by the PNC/R are the dislocation of registrants on the OLE and its Addendum as well as the removal of registrants previously listed on the Revised Voters List from the OLE and Addendum and persons with National ID Cards not listed on the OLE or the Addendum.

In a memorandum to Singh on March 22, which Stabroek News has seen, the Commission's Information Systems Department (ISD) suggested that the dislocation of voters on the OLE and Addendum could have been due to the phenomenon referred to as "registrar contention".

It said this phenomenon is the result of "two registrars continually requesting that the ISD edit a registrant's records to transfer him/her to their division."

The memorandum said that both the ISD/TOC (Technical Oversight Committee) "believe that this can be caused even by two conscientious registrars, each firmly believing that he/she is perfectly correct - the former say, because the registrant has taken a photo in their subdivision, and the latter because the registrant has signed a Form 5 in their presence requesting a transfer to their division."

"At each iteration of the process, one or the other of these registrars, not seeing the registrant listed in the subdivision they control, requests a transfer in of the registrant".

The memorandum added that the ISD/TOC's initial examination of this issue showed that there were a number of persons who had more than one transfer effected, and this along with our observations of the 'factory-floor' during processing in the main computer room have led it to that belief.

"We note in hindsight that if the Commission had not allowed the relaxation of the standard recommended by ISD and TOC (i.e. that ONLY signed Form 5s and other registrant-signed documents be used as source documents), this type of happenstance should not have occurred. ISD and TOC are aware that the Commission allowed the use of Memoranda and other evidence to guide the process in an effort to cater to as many citizens as possible."

In its explanation of the omission of persons from the OLE after having been listed on the Revised Voters List (RVL) and the National Register of Registrants (NRR) which preceded it, the memo noted that the NRR, the Preliminary Voters List and the RVL required only "that a registrant be listed. That is if the registrant was actually listed in a sub-division that did not exist (hanging divisions), this was not a problem."

"The RVL and predecessors served as drafts for registrants (or registrars) to correct issues such as imprecise location," according to the ISD memorandum. It explained that registrants might be listed imprecisely in a "hanging division" due to an encoder incorrectly entering the last letter in the real subdivision. (e.g. a registrant is encoded as living in subdivision 413242 or 413242N when the correct choice would have been 413242B).

The OLE (and Addendum) cannot express non-existent divisions, so registrants whose records persisted in this state at the time of the OLE were `removed' from the OLE and the Addendum.

The ISD recalled that it found some 517 persons (who) were left off the OLE and some 400 of these were rectified as result of the corrective efforts by itself and the National Registration Centre.

About those persons in possession of National Identification Cards but left off the OLE, the ISD memo pointed that for expediency the Commission approved the use of the RVL for printing the new National Identification cards. As a result it explained that a registrant could therefore conceivably have a valid card printed and subsequently have a change to his records made, as requested by a registrar, that transferred him/her to another location.

It said that the ISD also understands that a registrant's misapprehension as to where he/she was required to vote also cannot be ruled out as "many persons were required to vote at locations other than that where they uplifted their National ID card.

The memorandum said that the department recognised that the explanations offered were "obviously largely qualitative" but that it remained "open to scrutiny and interaction with entities that wish to improve and enhance the current elections process."

It noted too that "the current manner of collecting and processing voter data is unwieldy and that alone exposes a registrant to the risk of some part of the system failing. (Back to top)

PNC REFORM says it had seriously mulled pulling out of election

A release from the PNC REFORM issued on Saturday night said that it had seriously considered withdrawing from the March 19 elections because of its concerns about the state of the voters list.

The option was considered at a meeting of its central executive committee on March 18. The meeting was convened following the refusal by the Elections Commission to make arrangements that would have allowed those persons in danger of being disenfranchised for one reason or the other, to exercise their franchise.

The release noted that the assurance given the party by the Commission on March 11, was not honoured and that "despite the fact that information was transmitted to the Commission before E(lection) Day, the Addendum (to the Official List of Electors)failed to include many of the submissions."

"The anger and frustration of those who were disenfranchised should therefore be understood."

Stabroek News had reported on March 20 that the PNC REFORM had considered pulling out of the poll. The official who had spoken to this newspaper had, however, said that while the option had been on the table it was not seriously considered. (Back to top)

Power sharing is the only answer to violence - GAP/WPA

GAP/WPA is restating its call for the formation of a National Government.

It has written to President Bharrat Jagdeo and PNC REFORM leader Desmond Hoyte requesting that they jointly convene a meeting of the parties that contested the elections along with the major organisations of civil society to take the idea forward.

A release issued by the two-party alliance which won two seats at the March 19, elections said that "a National Government will draw on all of the country's resources and allow all minds to deal with Guyana's political future, the Constitution, the economy, and the livelihood, security and safety of our less than a million people."

The GAP/WPA release said that it was continuing to make the call on which it had campaigned "because in countries like ours, with deep racial divisions, progress depends on developing a form of government which shares power among the competing groups."

The release said that in the face of a rapidly deteriorating situation, "in our opinion there is no time to lose in moving towards the National Government the country has always needed."

"With people fearing one another and fearing for their peace, their security their livelihood and the very future of the country, we are more than convinced that so-called `inclusive government' will provide only a cosmetic change which will not meet the needs of all of the people of Guyana."

As a consequence GAP/WPA "therefore recommends cutting the people's losses and going directly to negotiations about power-sharing in a National Government. It is the only answer to violence."

It said that a national government means shared power beginning at Cabinet level and in other executive organs especially between the two major parties. (Back to top)

Dharmic Sabha congratulates Jagdeo

The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha has extended congratulations to President Bharrat Jagdeo on his election as the country's President and his party's victory at the just concluded general and regional elections.

The Dharmic Sabha in a release expressed confidence that Jagdeo will continue with the work he has started towards the development of Guyana and the fulfilment of his vision for this country.

The release said "it is their prayer that God grant his excellency the wisdom and strength to lead our country on the path of peace and progress and that he may enjoy the support and cooperation of all Guyanese so that he can advance the country further. It is the wish of the Sabha that all citizens demonstrate togetherness so that their hopes and expectations can be fulfilled in the shortest possible time."

The release added that the Dharmic Sabha continues its prayers for peace and stability in the land so that all may prosper and flourish.