As the six-week review period for draft amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) draws to a close, the Electoral Reform Group (ERG) is calling on the government to simplify the proposals in order to reach the entire Guyanese population and extend the deadline.
In an interview with the Sunday Stabroek, ERG coordinator Lawrence Lachmansingh explained that the draft amendments, published by the government on November 5, require “simplification and demystification”.
“We absolutely need education, and it’s something we [ERG] we promise to do within our limited resources. But recognizing that a lot of people are confused by what RoPA is and what this law means and so on, so we need to simplify and demystify them,” he explained.
He added that the civil society group called for the broadening of the electoral reform process, while noting that there is an opportunity for local-level engagement that can offer solutions to many of Guyana’s electoral problems. . He explained that by harnessing national capacity as a means of moving towards national consensus, Guyana can end up with an electoral system that represents the interests of the people and not just those of politicians.
“But when all of that is done, I think the basics are easily understood by people in terms of the problem to be solved and the more we talk to people, the more we will develop a national strategy. consensus,” he postulated.
Lachmansingh urged the government to consider a little more generosity in terms of spaces for ordinary citizens to join, learn and participate in decision-making alongside the electoral reform process. He further called on the government not to just dwell on election administration while ignoring broader issues affecting the wider population.
The changes proposed by the government are strongly focused on addressing the administrative issues that arose during the March 2020 elections. Additionally, it has introduced heavy fines and jail terms for election-related offences.
The ERG coordinator said the group is still reviewing the various reform proposals using the wisdom of the group members who have been involved in the administration and observation of the elections while taking into account the various recommendations made by the observation missions.
“So we are looking at the reforms that are currently being proposed from the perspective of what is good and what has already been identified… also what is missing in terms of additional reforms needed,” he said.
Lachmansingh said amending the law is just one aspect of the reform process and should not stop there as it should address a number of very significant challenges that Guyana has faced in the past, including the electoral system.
“When we vote, go to the polls and elect someone, how does that person end up representing us, because that’s basically a function of elections? So a lot of that work hasn’t even started yet. We therefore look forward to further reforms. We can continue at ROPA and do what we have to do there. But we also need to bring forward the other aspects such as campaign finance of political parties, regulation of political parties… we hope there will be downstream steps that will cover the other important aspects of electoral reforms,” a- he declared.
Extension and consultation
Since the proposed amendments and accompanying regulations are written in legal language, which ordinary Guyanese may find difficult to decipher, Lachmansingh proposes commitments at the community level.
“The second point we are [ERG] however, it is that we really hope that this current process will indeed be modified, expanded, adjusted in some way, so that, first, more people have the opportunity to participate. So we’ve already stated publicly that we think the current six-week process actually needs a bit more time for people to really think through the ins and outs of the proposed changes so that we have a chance as a country together,” did he declare. noted.
The government has held no consultation with the general population since the publication of the draft amendments. In fact, it was only after the amendments were published that the Guyana Electoral Commission was invited to comment.
On that note, Lachmansingh called for creating spaces to discuss the proposed amendments instead of having a back and forth where the country ends up with changes that do not reflect the views of the people in the sense large.
“We don’t believe that the solution to Guyana’s electoral problems lies in the hands of technical experts like us. It lies in a process where people dialogue and discuss their differences and try to agree on a choice among many good options. There is no doubt about it, especially with today’s technology. The question is not whether we lack technical correctness, the question is how to reach a political consensus that will be a correctness of the process and so this point is something that we really want to hold on to”, a- he declared.
He added that they hope the government considers and responds to the idea that a more inclusive and participatory process would be beneficial.
Does not pass the smell test
Joining the call for an extension of the review process and a more inclusive methodology, ERG implementing member Dr Rory Fraser said the government has taken about six months to come up with the proposed changes and therefore cannot expect people to review it in just six weeks.
“They do what they’ve done in the past, put their time and effort into something they want to do, then pass it under their noses and say they feel it. See if it smells good. This one doesn’t pass the smell test because we didn’t have enough time to smell. We need time because they really needed to get these things as a larger answer. Because what we have in six weeks would be woefully insufficient to give an answer for two major reasons: one, from all we’ve heard, it hasn’t gone far enough in the long run, and two, there are very, very important things that are not currently in this current legislation that could and should have been addressed,” he argued.
“We don’t really have a representative government; what we have is a government that seems to be governed by the leaders of the major parties, and these major parties are somehow given that authority by our electoral system. Therefore, if we have a chance to make meaningful changes, we must first tackle the electoral system,” he added.
The draft amendments are the result of the protracted process of the general and regional elections in March 2020, which lasted exactly five months between the ballot and the proclamation of the final results amid attempts to change the legal result.
One of the main changes he proposes is the division of Region Four, the largest electoral district in the country, into four sub-districts – East Bank Demerara, East Coast Demerara, North Georgetown and South Georgetown – thus adding a new section to section 6 of RoPA. , which deals with constituencies and voting divisions. Heavy fines and long prison sentences are also proposed for election officials who act illegally.
These amendments have, however, been criticized by the political opposition and civil society groups.