VOTER APATHY IS EXAGERRATED IN GUYANA
November 15, 2011 | By KNews | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom
Source - Kaieteur News
The idea that a large percentage of the Guyanese people stay away from the polls as a rejection of the politics of Guyana is a misplaced idea that stems from a flawed analysis of the voter turn out in 2006.
An understanding of voting trends in Guyana will debunk the notion that voter apathy is high in Guyana. It is not and has never been.
To understand why the voter turnout in 2006 polls was lower than in 2001, it must be appreciated that there was no house- to- house registration prior to the 2006 polls, and as such persons who would have registered for previous elections but had migrated or no longer lived in their original voting districts remained on the voters’ list.
The electoral laws of Guyana provide that any Guyanese, eighteen years or over at the prescribed date is eligible to vote. But in order to exercise that franchise the individual must be registered and registration requires a local address.
By the time the 2006 polls came around, a number of persons on the voters roll would have migrated since the last house to house registration, and others would have moved out of their districts. The large housing schemes established did lead to major demographic shifts and consequently to large numbers of moving away from districts in which they were originally registered.
Those that moved would have had amble opportunity to be listed in their new districts. Those that died would have been removed from the list. But those that migrated would have remained on the list, even though they were no longer resident in Guyana. By law they could not have been taken off.
The fear that somehow these persons could vote was used as a pretext by the PNCR for demanding house to house verification just prior to the 2006 polls, something that would have certainly caused the delay of the elections and lead to a constitutional crisis.
It was explained repeatedly to them that the persons who were lawfully registered could not simply be taken off the list. In fact, the PNCR sent a blanket list of names, which seemed to have been pulled wholesale from a section of the electoral roll to make its case.
That blanket objection, which did not seem to have been verified by the PNCR itself, showed the true nature of that party and was seen as a devious and shameless attempt to disenfranchise a large section of the Guyanese electorate. Yet the main opposition was the least embarrassed by its actions and still had the nerve to face the electorate afterwards.
It was repeatedly also pointed out to that party that a person could not be taken off the list simply because they may not have been in the country. It was also repeated to them that there were numerous checks and balances to guard against voter fraud.
The fear that someone else would use the identity of someone no longer living in Guyana to vote was misplaced because the electoral system provided for the duplicate registration cards to be at the polling station for verification purposes.
The fear also that the PPP would somehow fly plane loads of its supporters who had migrated since the previous elections was also misplaced because where would any party be able to afford to do something like this and where would they find the numbers who would obtain the time off or would be willing to leave their work in one country to fly to Guyana to vote and then fly out again.
In the end, none of the fears which were used as pretext to demand house to house verification materialized. The elections were relatively incident free and the PNCR accepted the results of the elections which it lost comprehensively.
However, in order to save face it continued to press for a new system of house to house registration which while costly and unnecessary, since there is a system of continuous registration in place, was acceded to by the government.
The turnout of the 2006 polls was good but not as high as before and this had to do mainly with the large numbers of persons on the list that did not exercise their franchise because they were not around to do so.
Since then there has been a new house to house registration exercise and because of this all those who were on the list before but no longer living in Guyana would have been expunged. As such the voter turnout this year is expected to be higher than in 2006.
There is just one problem. There are thousands of persons, according to reports who up to a few months ago, had not uplifted their new identification cards emerging out of the new house to house registration exercise.
While these persons should not be disenfranchised so long as they can produce some form of valid identification, the real danger is that someone who does not make the effort to go and uplift their new national identification card, may very well not make the effort to go out and vote.
Guyanese are a last minute people and the old identification cards have been decommissioned. If within the next few days the majority of those new identification cards remain uncollected, it could suggest that the recipients may not equally be motivated to go out and vote.
This is not suggesting that there is a correlation between voter apathy and uncollected identification card, but merely a possible signpost of what could happen.
If the trend of past elections is anything to judge by, then Guyana should have a turnout in excess of seventy five per cent which by international standards is very high.