The IDEA report

Stabroek News
August 13, 2001

The Systems Review and Audit Report by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) adds further weight to the widely held view that the March 19, 2001 elections - while not flawless - were an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

In what was one of the report's more telling findings, the auditors said the Guyana Elections Commission "managed to print a final voters list of reasonably high accuracy which can stand up to international scrutiny and is comparable internationally. In essence, in a voters list of approximately 440,185, the errors discovered were fewer than 1,000 and were mostly due to polling station misallocation".

This is a significant finding as much of the criticism levelled at the Elections Commission and at the process prior to the March 19 polls related to the quality of the Official List of Electors (OLE). Given that only around 1,000 errors were detected and that the OLE had been fashioned from a list which had been purged of tens of thousands of names in the controversial block objection, it means that claims of widespread list problems were unfounded.

There were, of course, genuine cases of persons who went through all of the required steps but yet were disenfranchised and cases where names were placed in the incorrect divisions effectively preventing these voters from voting. These instances were not many.

Nevertheless, the IDEA report did say that there should be further investigation - if specific details are provided - of claims that names of voters which were appended to the OLE addendum did not appear on it when it was published. IDEA was unable to investigate these charges as no specific details were supplied to its database team.

This is surprising considering the many claims which had been made by the PNC REFORM in the days after the elections and the numerous protests which flowed therefrom including the challenge to the swearing in of the President.

Another seminal finding by the team was that no evidence of deliberate manipulation or electoral fraud could be detected. As a result of its diversified investigation, IDEA ruled that it was "unable to find that the issues and concerns raised by the political parties and other stakeholders in relation to the 2001 electoral process, prejudiced or advantaged any particular political party or parties. Consequently, the Audit Team is able to declare that the issues and concerns detailed in this report would not have affected the result of the election".

The IDEA report was chock-full of insights into why administrative problems arose marring some parts of the process and raising suspicions and doubts in the minds of an already uneasy electorate.

Many valuable lessons can be drawn such as the folly of trying to cram what should have been an 18-month electoral baby into a gestation period of seven months.

This narrow margin was further stressed by excruciatingly bureaucratic decision-making within the Elections Commission that gave rise to additional tasks that could not be properly fitted into the tight schedule.

The entrenched political make-up of the Commission compounded the problems, prompting the IDEA auditors to politely suggest in their recommendations that there was need for a non-political body stacked with "independent and respected" persons - admittedly a rare species in the Guyana cocktail. This appeal has been made on numerous occasions here but has fallen on the deaf ears of the political behemoths.

Many valuable recommendations were made in the IDEA report and no doubt the reconstituted Elections Commission will take them on board including the one pertaining to the constant updating of the list to obviate the confusion of mass registration when an election rolls around and improving communications between polling stations and the Commission.

One other precious bit of advice was that the OLE was a superb record of those persons in this country of voting age and is a valuable tool for updating and improving other registers in the country. It is a database that must be built on.

The million dollar question now is how will the IDEA report nourish the political climate and move the country forward.

On the face of it, the IDEA report further limits the grounds for challenging the validity of the elections in court. It allows the PNC/R an opening to put their doubts about the elections legitimately to rest while pursuing earnestly the course of dialogue that has been started with the PPP/Civic government, who for its part must show unremitting commitment to these talks despite the contents of the report. This is the path that every reasonable Guyanese wants. There is little to be gained from a drawn out, enervating elections petition.

For a country that was dogged by the nightmare of rigged elections between 1968 and 1985, the IDEA report is another testament to the credible elections that followed the restoration of democracy in 1992.