Elections were above board
- Region 10 returning officer tells petition hearing

Stabroek News
June 4, 1999

Returning Officer of Region Ten during the 1997 general elections, Nelson Bakker, on Wednesday testified that the elections were conducted peacefully, and there were no reports of any violent incident which would have breached the elections law.

Bakker, the first witness to be called by Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, lawyer for the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), told Justice Claudette Singh that the elections were free, transparent and above board.

Bakker said that 27,036 persons over the age of 18 were registered to vote in Region Ten. He said he had received 23,159 voters ID cards and had returned 2,124 to the Elections Commission. The witness said that distribution centres were set up in each sub-district in the region.

Bakker said that he had collected 96 ballot boxes and other elections material for the 96 polling stations in the area. At the close of polls, the witness said, the statements of poll were put in envelopes and returned.

Asked if there were any requests for a recount of the ballots, the witness told the court that on December 16, 1997, the PPP/Civic made a request for a recount of the ballots. He said he immediately informed the CEO about the request and told him that he would proceed to do the recount. Bakker also informed the chief scrutineer of all the political parties of the request made by the PPP/Civic.

According to the witness, after the recounting, all the ballot boxes were transported to the Linden Police Training Centre, then to the Elections Commission under police escort.

The witness said that the results of the votes found and declared in his region were PNC - 14,802, AFG - 314, AGGG - 103, GBG - 38, GDP - 139, JFAP - 27, NDF - 24, NIP - 14, PPP - 3,440 and TUF - 118.

In his opening statement, Singh told the court that in order to negate the case presented by the petitioner's counsel against the Elections Commission, he intended to establish that the commission was proactive and at all times discussed the problems raised after the elections with the relevant parties and civil society.

He said that he would also show that the requirement of voter ID cards was as a result of consensus among all political parties as well as the Inter-Party Committee for Electoral Reform and an enactment of Parliament which was unanimous. He further stated that he would attempt to show that the production and distribution of ID cards was not discriminatory and that the commissioners and officers did everything humanly possible to distribute cards.

Singh said that he would also establish that the security arrangements that were in place were unparalleled in the history of elections in Guyana and that at all times all ballot boxes were under the supervision of security personnel and elections officials.

Singh will also seek to establish that there were no allegations of any irregularities on election day and that the two major political parties had election agents and candidates at almost all polling stations. The senior counsel said that he will further attempt to show that for the purposes of the election officials, an unparalleled training and evaluation was done and that every prospective candidate took a written examination which was evaluated.

The senior counsel, who is also the chairman of the Elections Commission will also seek to show that it was only the PPP representative who had objected to ballots being rejected and that the CARICOM Audit Commission was unbiased and took pains to satisfy every whim and fancy of the representatives of the political parties during the audit. He also raised several other points.

The Esther Perreira petition contends that the elections commission did not carry out its mandate under the Constitution, that the registration exercise was flawed, that the production of both the preliminary and final voters' list was not in accordance with the law; that the production and distribution of the voters' I.D. cards was discriminatory. The petition has further alleged that there were minor irregularities on elections day, but thereafter there were irregularities which could affect the results of the elections.

The petition has named the representatives of the lists of political parties and the CEO as respondents. PNC's Desmond Hoyte is represented by Senior Counsel Rex McKay. The hearing continues today.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples