Lowenfield to craft plan for national recount
…modalities worked out
GUYANA’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield has been given less than 48 hours to draft an operational plan that will guide the execution of a National Recount of all the votes cast at the March 2 General and Regional Elections. That plan will be the subject of major discussion when the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) meets on Wednesday.
The Chief Elections Officer was given clearance to draft the plan on Monday after receiving much needed clarity from the Elections Commission on the National Recount.
Moments after exiting the meeting, which was led by Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh – the Chair of GECOM, Government nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander disclosed that the modalities of the recount were discussed extensively with the intention of providing clarity to the Chief Elections Officer. Last Friday, when GECOM took the decision to proceed with the National Recount, Lowenfield had asked for clear directions on the process to be employed. According to Alexander, those clear directions were provided, and it is expected that a draft operational plan would be placed before the Commission on Wednesday at 11:00hrs for its consideration.
Opposition nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj confirmed that the Commission addressed the issues raised by Lowenfield – the majority being operational in nature. “It took us quite a while to go through each and every one of them to provide guidance in as explicit a manner that we can to him so that he can operationalize the process by providing a plan to us,” Gunraj told reporters.
According to him, some of the core issues included the conduct of the recount, the extent at which it will be carried out and the role of the Commission in resolution of disputes arising out of the process. The Commission, he noted, also considered the reporting mechanism that would be employed following the tabulation of votes at the level of the Polling Station. In normal circumstances, information generated is recorded on Statements of Poll (SOP) following the tabulation of the ballots, however, in this case, the information would be recorded on a document with features similar to that of a SOP.
“All of those things, we went through; each and every one of the concerns the CEO had and like I said, attempted as best as we could to provide as much clarity to him,” Gunraj said.
It is Gunraj’s hope that the draft operational plan will be available to the Election Commissioners ahead of the Wednesday’s meeting, so that they could effectively discuss it when they meet.
At this stage, it is unclear when GECOM will commence the recount, however, last Friday it indicated that the recount of the votes cast would be conducted in chronological order, that is, from Region One to Region 10.
It is also unclear whether GECOM will use the same set of Returning Officers, who had played leading roles at the end of the polls, given the controversy that surrounded the Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo. It was under Mingo’s watch the tabulation of Statements of Poll for District 4 went downhill. After the process was repeatedly disrupted by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic and a number of other small parties, Mingo had moved to declare the votes cast in favor of each List of Candidate for his Electoral District on March 5 but by March 11, the High Court ruled that he had breached Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act. He was ordered to tabulate the SOPs in the presence of persons entitled to be there, such as party agents and observers, and though he proceeded to adhere to the ruling of the Court, his second declaration, on March 13, was still deemed to be flawed by the PPP/C and others.
According to Gunraj, a proposal is now on the table to have the Region 4 Returning Officer removed from the process. “It is a proposal, it has not reached finality. As you are aware as well, it was only in District Four that issues arose, in the other nine Districts there were no issues that were reported to us, that would warrant the request for the removal of those persons,” Gunraj told reporters.
The Elections Commission took a decision to proceed with the National Recount after the Full Court discharged four injunctions, which had initially blocked GECOM from executing its plan.
The National Recount, Justice Singh has said is in keeping with Article 162 (1) (b) of the Constitution of Guyana, which mandates the Commission to “take such action as appear to it necessary or expedient to ensure impartiality, fairness and compliance with the provisions of the Constitution.”
Ahead of the decision, Justice Singh told the Commissioners that she was in no position to backpedal on her commitment to the High Court to facilitate the national recount. “…Justice Claudette Singh explained that she would be unable to renege on her undertaking to the Chief Justice [Roxane George-Wiltshire] to facilitate a recount of the votes cast in the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections,” GECOM’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Yolanda Ward had explained in a statement on Friday.
The GECOM Chair had given an undertaking to the High Court on March 13 after the PPP/C, through its associate, had filed contempt proceedings against GECOM over an alleged failure by the Region 4 Returning Officer to tabulate the votes cast in his Electoral District in accordance with Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act. This case was shelved, and as such no Contempt Order was issued.