Granger and Jagdeo must Compromise on Election Date

Although it is reported that Judge Claudette Singh was sympathetic to the PNC (in the Esther Perrara case of December 1997 and appointed by the coalition government as an advisor), it is expected that she will be neutral and professional in discharging her responsibilities.

Granger and Jagdeo must Compromise on Election Date
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

As I recently penned in several published articles, I urged compromise in the appointment of a Chair for Gecom since both sides (PPP and PNC) want a Chair sympathetic to one over the other to give it an advantage in the elections. Lo and behold, there was a compromise and a Retired judge, Claudette Singh, was nominated by Opposition Leader Jagdeo and selected by President Granger and sworn in as Gecom Chair. Analogously, a compromise in the announcement of a date for elections is needed.

Although it is reported that Judge Claudette Singh was sympathetic to the PNC (in the Esther Perrara case of December 1997 and appointed by the coalition government as an advisor), it is expected that she will be neutral and professional in discharging her responsibilities. She, herself, said she would deliver free and fair elections and in a timely fashion. The CCJ ruled that elections must be held by September 18. But Judge Singh has a late start and will not be able to meet the September 18 deadline. This date is impractical. She will have to pronounce on the readiness of Gecom to hold elections as soon as possible and prepare an electoral list acceptable to all parties (inclusion of all eligible voters). This may not happen within six weeks. So a compromise on the date for elections is urgently required.

The PNC led coalition has been championing house-to-house registration for preparation of a new voters list. The exercise has begun in earnest without opposition participation or approval of Gecom post CCJ rulings June 12 and July 2. The opposition claims it is illegal and defies the ruling of the CCJ that says elections must be held by September 30. The process has not been authorized since the CCJ ruling. House to house registration will take months. In fact, Gecom lawyer told the CCJ it needed ending of December to conduct house- to-house registration. Then there will be a period of claims and objections taking another couple of months. Then finalization of a voters list will take another month. The process can drag on till May 2020 delaying elections till then if not later. Since then, Gecom CEO has changed his position. The latest word from Gecom CEO is that house-to-house registration can be completed in a couple months and a new voters’ list ready for elections later this year but not by September 18. The constitution does not call for new house to house registration. It requires continuous registration and updating of the voters’ list through deaths and migrations. If there are claims and objections, the voters’ list can be ready in a couple weeks and elections held by end of September. But this is unlikely given the demand of the coalition.

The opposition PPP wants elections before September 18 as per the constitution and the ruling of the CCJ believing it can unseat the coalition now; that may not be the case as conversations with Guyanese revealed.

In conversations, the political and business elites are of the view that the coalition is using new house to house registration as a rouse to delay the election. The elites say that the coalition feels it will be better prepared for a winning strategy if the election is put off by a few months. The coalition has a better chance now because it is united and its base is behind it. The PPP feels it is in an ideal position to win now although there is division in the camp. The PPP needs some time to gather its forces together and for political healing and reconciliation from the fall out following internal elections. Meanwhile, the opposition minor parties need time to gather their forces and to raise resources for an election. Any fall out from the two dominant parties will go towards the minor parties. The later the elections, the more beneficial to the minor parties. So a delay in the elections is really helping the opposition and decreasing the chance of the coalition.

But an election before September 18 is impractical because Gecom has to meet and decide whether the list is ready. This meeting is not expected till next week. Then the President has to give a month’s notice to the nation that elections will be held. There also has to be a period for claims and objections of names on (or not on) the list. The entire process requires at least two months. This takes us into October. So while the CCJ orders elections and urged the parties to follow the constitution, and while it is ideal to follow the constitution, election is not possible by September 18. It has to be postponed.

At the same time, there is no need for house to house registration. The list can be updated. This can be done in a month. And elections can be held late October or shortly thereafter.

In practicality, there will be no elections before September; even October seems difficult.  Just as the leadership compromised over a Gecom Chair, a compromise is needed from the ruling coalition and the opposition party on a date for elections. Both sides must be prepared to give in a little to make the process work; the CCJ also implored both sides to work together on resolving the issue.

The leadership of both major parties should meet and address the date for the election – parliament reconvening soon with opposition support for a fixed date for election and updating the voters’ list through claims and objections instead of house to house registration.