Draft amendments to the electoral law under preparation

A draft of proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Law is expected to be completed by the end of next month, after which the opposition and citizens can provide input.

“The idea is to make it more transparent and define responsibilities in the law that are unambiguous and…to put in place a set of penalties for people who might try to steal the election,” the deputy said yesterday. -President Bharrat Jagdeo at a press conference, where he announced the move.

“Any sane person will support this. It is the objective. Each person will have the chance to contribute. So we’re asking for those views. Eventually there will be a draft, hopefully by the end of June – a bill. Then, this project will be sent to the international community, to all political parties in French Guiana, to civil society bodies as well as to GECOM, and will be posted on the site. Then people would have 3 months in Guyana to give their opinion,” he added.

The vice president said the government will ensure a comprehensive overhaul of the current law and that citizens will determine what they want for the country. “We will be looking at issues from registration to declaration of results, so anything that is not unambiguous, not transparent, etc. We have made it clear that we want SoPs [Statements of Poll] in the public domain before tabulation started, that kind of stuff,” he said.

“Everyone will have a chance. So when that is done, UNPA will have the opportunity to make its contribution there and to several civil society organizations. And then, when this is done, a bill will be drafted, taking into account the contributions made and it will be presented to parliament, where the parliamentary opposition will again have a contribution,” he added.

Local government elections are due to be held before the end of this year and it is not yet clear how these planned reforms will affect its scheduling.

Meanwhile, Jagdeo said the PPP/C had made it clear that it would not accept Chief Electoral Officer Keith Lowenfield running in any further elections in this country. The same goes, he said, for District Four returning officer Clairmont Mingo.

“Before the elections were held, we made it clear that Lowenfied and the others cannot organize the elections. These are people who tried to steal the election. They cannot be there to organize future elections in this country,” he charged.

Jagdeo’s announcement yesterday came on the heels of recent controversies over a US-funded electoral reform project to be led by the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The PANU+AFC opposition and some civil society groups have criticized the project, going so far as to warn that it undermines sovereignty because it is led by the IRI. However, Jagdeo said yesterday that the opposition wanted to select foreign support.

He pointed out that in 2015, the opposition supported the USAID-funded “Vote Like a Boss” initiative, even when PPP/C raised concerns.

“IRI, in 2011 and 2015 – UNPA had no problem with them. We had some problems with them, but UNPA embraced IRI’s suggestions, especially with the “Vote Like a Boss” campaign. It started with the IRI, they funded it… and now in 2020, because they come to support, not lead but support, a democratic process, now [they object]“, said Jagdeo.

“…We support the involvement of the entire international community – CARICOM, the Commonwealth, everyone except to support transparency and democracy, they always have, but the process would be Guyanese-led,” said he added.

In addition to the opposition, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has come out strongly against the project, while civil society groups representing the Afro-Guyanese community have also rejected it.

The GHRA described the project schedule as “poor”, the implementing agency as “unacceptable” and described the preparatory works as “not yet started”.

Describing itself as being in an unusual position of opposing the reform bill, the GHRA had said in a press release that it feared that “the continuation of this project will not only fail to achieve its objective, but will also further postpone prospects for future reform that Guyana so badly needs”. The GHRA said that “it remains an unqualified supporter of electoral reform”, but “electoral reform, like the aftermath of a fire-ravaged building , needs a period of cooling before a lasting reconstruction can succeed”.

The selection of the IRI to lead the electoral reform project, says the GHRA, is a “bizarre choice”. The GHRA said IRI board members are a veritable who’s who of the Republican establishment, including party greats such as Senators Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney and Dan Anderson. With the exception of Romney, the statement said, none of the other IRI stalwarts have publicly distanced themselves from the Trump-led chaos following the November US election results, nor from the persecution of Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney for have done so, nor since the over-the Republican campaign to disenfranchise voters in traditionally Democratic states. The statement said “Guyanese have nothing to learn from an institution whose parent body is a major influence in global fascism.”

Similar criticisms were also made by the other groups.

Jagdeo said the GHRA’s position amounted to “crying crocodile tears”. He pointed out that the GHRA and all other bodies will have a chance to have their say. “When the debate takes place, it is between the Guyanese who will decide what the amendments will ultimately be. It will be the opposition and the government in parliament that will pass the final law. And you will have a full debate,” he said.