March 19 poll met international Standards - Carter Center
Urges stakeholders to work for reconciliation, good governance

Stabroek News
May 18, 2001

The Carter Center says the March 19 poll met international standards and the results reflected the will of the voters but it pinpointed issues that have to be tackled before the next election and appealed for stakeholders to put the nation first and work for reconciliation.

In its final statement yesterday on the general elections which it monitored, the center said "despite the problems encountered, some of which are inherent in administering a nationwide electoral apparatus with more than 9,000 temporary employees and almost 500,000 voters, the Carter Center found that the voters of Guyana were able to freely express their democratic choices on March 19 and that the official result reflected the will of the voters."

Carter Center observers headed by former US President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn Carter and former Barbadian Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford found that on polling day voters turned out in droves and exercised their franchise peacefully. Poll workers were well-trained and performed professionally and impartially. The statement added that political party agents were present at almost all of the 415 polling stations visited by the observers and there were no reports of significant security incidents or intimidation.

On the area of voter registration, the Atlanta, US-based center said that while its overall assessment was positive several issues arose. It noted that voter registration was the principal reason for opposition party claims that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was not ready for polling day. Although GECOM had extended deadlines and issued supplemental voters lists the final roll "appeared to suffer from repeated but correctable errors, e.g. last minute dislocation of an undetermined number of registered voters within the lists". There was also concern, the center said, that the revised list had too many names and "contained the remnants of fictitious voters added during the original 1996 registration".

Noting that GECOM expects its 95% accuracy figure for the list to be upheld by an audit to be executed by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the center said such a rate is an achievement exceeding that in many established democracies. "However, unexplained changes to the list, which happened sometime during the final correction period, left political parties believing that many of their supporters were being deliberately disenfranchised" the statement said while noting that Carter Center observers did not witness large numbers of voters who were unable to vote because their names were not on the list neither did they witness any systematic evidence of voters registering more than once or casting a ballot more than once.

Turning to elections management systems, the center averred that registration inaccuracies and delays in the identification cards system are only part of the larger electoral process. It suggested that future election planning, management and systems could also be addressed by the audit which could then make recommendations on integrating streamlined management systems and use of technology with the new electoral system.

The center noted that in this year's election, sophisticated computerised vote reporting and tabulation systems drawn up with help from international experts were virtually discarded and final results were tabulated manually. "The software for the system was never completely verified prior to the opening of the polls. The vote count was ultimately accurate and honest, but it was inefficient. As a result the announcement of final results was delayed by more than 48 hours, creating suspicions", the center pointed out.

Noting the absence of party agents from the tabulation of results at the national level, the center posited that the ability of party agents to freely check the electoral system all the way including the count and resolution of problems "is an essential part of a free and fair process that GECOM should endeavour to facilitate in the future". Openness and transparency which had been commendable seemed to be retracted once the results were posted up at polling stations and statements of poll were delivered to the Returning Officers, the center added. It was not really a problem for the PPP/Civic or the PNC REFORM as they had representation on the Elections Commission but the center noted that smaller parties including GAP/WPA, TUF and ROAR were more affected.

Pointing out that Guyana's electoral achievements have been marred by arson, post-election street violence and lingering doubts about the accuracy of the results, the center said that fixing technical deficiencies in the system should be relatively easy but remedying the entrenched mistrust in routine electoral administration will be a bigger challenge.

"The new government and Parliament, together with civil society participants, must continue the process of constitutional and electoral reform. They should pledge to put the nation first and work for political reconciliation, inclusiveness and good governance in order to achieve the sustained development citizens yearn for", the statement added. It described the dialogue underway between President Bharrat Jagdeo and PNC REFORM leader Desmond Hoyte as an "encouraging sign".

The Carter Center closed its observation office here on April 6, 2001 after setting up here on February 5, 2001. Its field office director, six medium term observers and 37 short term observers comprised the team.

A comprehensive final report on the elections here is to be issued next month.