EAB backs Dec 15 official results -says elections best in three decades

Stabroek News
March 18, 1998

The December 15 polls were the best in three decades here and barring any unforetold circumstance the official results issued - showing a clear PPP/Civic victory - represent the will of the Guyanese people.

These declarations were made in the much anticipated report of the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) which was released yesterday on the controversial elections last year.

The 92-page report complete with appendices said a battery of tests it conducted on the official returns from Chief Election Officer (CEO) Stanley Singh - based on the 41% of results the EAB's observers collected during their monitoring operations - showed only minor discrepancies. It said that 81.9% of the EAB's results mirrored those of the Elections Commission while 17.5% showed minor discrepancies and only 0.6% had major differences, all but one being explainable.

Official results issued by Singh showed that the ruling People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) captured 55.3% (220,667) of the votes and the People's National Congress 40.5% (161,901) of the votes.

EAB's own quick count or "indicator test" done on the night of December 15 showed that the PPP/Civic had won by 52.8% to 44.2%, however, the report said that the methodology contained flaws and a test error factor could not be calculated.

The PNC has refused to accept the final official results and mounted massive, disruptive demonstrations in protest. Some of these resulted in violence and the impasse led to the mounting of a peace mission here by CARICOM and the agreement on a menu of measures to heal the rift.

The EAB report, issued on the same day that the CARICOM team to audit the December 15 results was due - also posited that the official voter turnout of 88.4% of electors was acceptable.

On December 15, the EAB said that its 571 observers scrutinised 480 of 1837 polling places countrywide and eventually received 750 of the count results as some buildings contained more than one booth.

On the basis of their observations, the EAB said that 64% of its observers rated the validity of the poll as "totally acceptable" while 36% deemed it as "acceptable" - a few irregularities but not of the magnitude to affect the final result of the boxes.

"Upon analysis of the observations reported by its observers throughout Guyana, EAB unreservedly states that the voting process was near perfect, was free and fair, and with no incidents of reported fraud", the report contended.

On the counting procedure at ballot stations, the EAB noted that in addition to the completion of the statutory Statements of Poll, Presiding Officers were also mandated by the Commission - but not by law - to compile the identical results on another form for the churning out of computer results.

It said that the copies of Statements of Poll received by observers pointed to a number of problems. These were crucial in that they impacted upon the vote compilation process undertaken later by the Commission. Two main problems were discerned by the EAB: the lack of location information such as division numbers and sub-division designations and the absence of signatures of Presiding Officers. In the aftermath of the elections, the absence of these signatures were blamed for many of the problems that the Commission experienced in the generation and issuance of results.

Of the 307 Statements of Poll gathered, the EAB said that 105 were devoid of location information while 18 did not have signatures affixed. "Most significantly, 53% of the Region 4 Statements were found deficient. It could not be ascertained to which region two of the statements pertained", the EAB said.

However, no fraud was observed and the EAB asserted that the results of the count represented the will of the Guyanese people.

On the post-count events, the EAB noted that Presiding Officers were required by law to convey ballot boxes and Statements of Poll to their respective Returning Officers. The 10 Returning Officers are then required to prepare aggregated statements for transmission to the CEO who ascertains the results and then declares them publicly.

The EAB said that in addition, to refine this legal procedure, the Commission introduced the extra form intended to spew out the computer generated results. This system was utilised for the early results. In addition, the EAB noted that an elaborate system had been devised for individual results to be forwarded to the Commission Command Centre from the various polling stations via radio or telephone. Secret codes were added to confirm the authenticity of these. These results were then entered on the forms for the computer and after authentication, computer operators entered them into the system.

The transmission of results to the Command Centre saw more being sent in from regions other than Region Four since many of the Region Four results were sent in by hand instead of being phoned in. This, the report said, constituted the first form of delay in the anouncement of results for Region Four.

This region is considered a stronghold of the PNC and it was the delay of these results which triggered the first protest by PNC supporters outside of the Commission on December 18.

The EAB report disclosed that on inspecting the Statements of Poll submitted for Region Four it was evident that many of them lacked validating signatures from Presiding Officers or location details.

"Thus the Commission was faced with a scenario where it could not announce results for many boxes within Region 4, even though it had these statements in its possession", the report contended.

As a result, the EAB pointed out that the Commission launched two abortive verification exercises for the Region Four boxes both of which the PNC pulled out of in protest at various problems. The EAB noted that in the first of the exercises on December 18, there had been no major discrepancies up to the point the PNC exited it in protest at the disorganization in the process.

Results and the new President were eventually declared on December 19 by Commission Chairman Doodnauth Singh inspite of continuing objections by the PNC to the computer system used to churn out results.

The computer system was abandoned and a manual verification process began on December 23. As with the first, the EAB said only minor differences were spotted. This one however ended the very day over a statement made by Doodnauth Singh that final results were unlikely to be affected by the exercise.

The EAB said that the tests it did on the basis of the general elections results it compiled included confirmation of the voter turnout, comparison of the EAB observer results with Command Centre's computer results, comparison of the EAB's observers results with the CEO's detailed results and the verification of the addition of the figures in the final declared results.

Making out its case for its stand on the elections, the EAB said that in addition to assessing the December 15 process according to international standards, its role as the local observer also provided valuable insight over and above requirements for visiting observers.

It noted that it monitored political campaigning, media reporting and was able to check a significant number of results that its observers gathered against those of the CEO. "By virtue of these facts, as well as its superior number of observers, EAB is therefore better placed than any other observing team to pronounce on the validity of the elections", the EAB argued.

In arriving at its conclusion, it cited 12 areas which were considered including freedom to campaign, freedom of the media, opportunity to register to vote, no reports of deliberate disenfranchisement, no multiple voting reports and no altering of count results during the transmission process.

It also adverted to the findings of several of the tests it had done in addition to the quick count. Its voter turnout test showed that valid votes were 86.7% compared to the CEO's 86.5%; its comparison of vote results with the Returning Officers results showed that the PPP/Civic should have received only 55 less and the PNC only 378 less; its addition checks on the Returning Officers' statements and CEO's statements showed that the PNC should have captured 105 less votes and the PPP/Civic 125 less.

In light of these factors and "barring any unforetold, adverse parameter" the EAB said the polls were "free and fair; that the variations detected in 41% of the 1837 ballot box results are of little significance; and having no reason to doubt that the unchecked 59% will reveal considerably dissimilar results, EAB therefore considers that the allocation of the seats in Parliament as declared by the Chief Election Officer on December 30 is unlikely to be affected by these variations".