October 26 ,2020
While the PPP/C promises to give the Guyana Elections Commission all the resources it needs to prepare for Local Government Elections (LGE) next year, Attorney General Anil Nandlall says that it seems unlikely to be held given the current elections petitions, a call by the opposition for a new voters list and police probes of officers of the electoral body.
“By law, Local Government Elections are due next year, but from all indications it does not appear that GECOM will be in a state of readiness for several reasons…,” Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday.
“How do we determine [GECOM’s readiness]? We have to fix the elections commission and that is the task of the elections commission itself as an independent constitutional body. All the government can do is to provide the resources and canvas for the changes,” he said.
The Attorney General said that not only is GECOM’s Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield before the court, but that his party has no confidence in him again performing such functions at the electoral body.
“You have to be doubtful whether the Chief Election Officer and the Deputy Chief Election Officer and other functionaries, who are before the court charged with criminal offences, would be able to discharge their respective statutory responsibilities. Moreover, these persons’ credibility would come under heavy scrutiny. Important to an election commission, is its credibility, because public confidence is integral to the electoral process and moreover for the results declared by that commission to gain public acceptability. Unfortunately, the world saw the inner workings of GECOM on display during the elections and before March 2020 and subsequent to the elections,” Nandlall reasoned.
“Whichever side of the political divide wants it, both sides have expressed, at a minimum, disquiet with the elections machinery and elections officers. Earlier this week, APNU+AFC had expressed objections to the current electoral register and they are calling for a new house-to- house registration. On the PPP/C’s side, I can safely say that they have no confidence in the Chief Election Officer or the Deputy Election Officer and we have an extraordinarily sound basis for our views. Everyone saw the Chief Election Officer’s behaviour post, March 2nd,” he added.
However Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon said that his party is expecting the LGE to be held in its statutory timeframe and said he is confident that current matters before the court will have no impact on the Chief Election Officer or others executing their duties.
“The government has to allocate the funds for GECOM to satisfy a new and credible voters’ list. LGE is a statutory requirement. It is the Government of Guyana’s responsibility to put in place everything for it to happen. So I am not prepared to accept any statement by Mr. Nandlall on GECOM’s readiness. The government has to provide the resources and GECOM has to make a statement if it is ready or not.”
“We will expect the Elections Commission to pronounce on this matter at the earliest possible opportunity …the elections commission has to carry out their function. The fact that the CEO is before the court does not impair his ability to perform any function which he has to perform. A lot of these charges we know are bogus, some have been withdrawn. I am not of the view that he or any of the members before the court is really a matter which will prevent them from doing what they have to do,” he said.
Further, he added, “This is the out of the playbook of the PPP. Taking these people before the courts on trumped up charges so that they will not be in a position so they will not be able to do what they have to do. But we will hold them to the responsibility under the law to conduct these elections,” he added.
Harmon said that one of the first steps GECOM would have to take is “ensuring we have a clean list of electors for the LGE”, even as he stressed that “It is for GECOM to say we are in a state of readiness to adequately carry out our functions with regards to LGE.”
For the Attorney General, the CEO’s actions was called into question by not just his party but others contesting and observers.
“One hundred countries in the world condemned him. Every major organization, both in Guyana, in the Caribbean; you had CARICOM, the diplomatic community the OAS, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, The European Union and several governments around the world criticized the performance. The judiciary of Guyana, including our highest court, the CCJ condemned his conduct. The PPP/C represents the largest block of Guyanese electors and the PPP/C does not stand alone. We have nine other political parties that have taken a similar position against the CEO,” Nandlall declared.
He added “So no election under his stewardship will be regarded as credible by a majority of the electors. The matter is compounded by an elections petition in which I have no doubt that evidence would be led to establish further wrong-doing. When one takes all of this into account I can’t imagine the atmosphere being conducive to the holding of local government elections and I think that may be the consensual political view.”
He stressed that his posture was in no way one that should suggest that the PPP/C wants to postpone or is shunning its responsibilities to GECOM.
“Elections are either held or the law is amended to postpone the elections. I hope what I say is not interpreted as a basis to postpose the elections but going ahead with an election with the realities can only be a recipe for disaster,” he said.