Voting is sacrosanct, a constitutional, democratic right. The peoples’ electoral verdict should be respected regardless of which party wins a free and fair election. There must be respect for peace and the law. There should be no fraud and skullduggery in elections. But in Guyana, people are on edge over Monday’s election — whether it would be relatively peaceful as say happened in 2006, free and fair, and what would be the outcome.
Guyana has had a history of disputed elections Guyanese elections are dangerous and imperfect — but they are also hard-fought contests although not on a level playing field. The people are asking that the sanctity of the right to vote be respected, and to have that vote counted, and that it should be enforced by officials working at and for Gecom at the headquarter and various voting places, and ensured by the international observers and diplomats. The right to vote should also be forcefully defended by Guyanese as the vote determines which party will govern them.
Every election is a nail biting event as people watched elections in Guyana with dread. There are legitimate fears of electoral fraud and violence. In fact, violence is endemic to Guyanese elections, and allegations of fraud characterized all elections going back to 1968. Elections have been accompanied by some level of bloodshed. The question is usually not “if” there will be violence, but rather, “how much?” In 2015, a horrific spasm of election day violence swept across parts of Georgetown. Then as now, there were claims the vote was being or would be rigged.
When it comes to manipulation of the vote—whether through intimidation, bribery, or outright rigging— Guyanese implicitly understand that it is a question of “how much.” There were charges of attempts at voter suppression (tampering with voting places and removal of names from the voters’ list). Some charge that names of non-Guyanese have been added onto the voters’ list. But no evidence has been offered! Voters say that there are signs that something weird is going on relating to the voters’ list and polling places. It is noted that the dead and tens of thousands who migrated are still on the registrar. There would be some 200K extra ballots; these could be abused – ballot box stuffing and 100% voter turnout in some locations. Will there be lower percentage turnout (662K names; 71% turnout last time)? This writer believes it will be much higher.
Politicians are known to corrupt the electoral process. Some politicians are notorious for bribing voters with money, other handouts, promises, and favors. There is also a credible fear that violent gangs may be paid to suppress voter turnout. Looting sprees are also feared on Regent Street making businesses jittery and considering closing on election day and the following days.
According to Guyana’s electoral laws, representatives (agents) from all political parties are permitted to witness the voting and the counting of ballots in polling stations. They are authorized to stay and sign the statement of poll (SOP) certifying the count. They receive a carbon copy. The SOP is to be sent to the electoral commission and posted on the door and online immediately, so they could be double checked by all parties and the public for transparency and to prevent fraud. That system broke down at several polling stations in 2015 and 2011. Agents who were entitled by law to observe the voting and counting, had been thrown out of polling stations; ballot boxes were stuffed, fake statements of polls were introduced. These affected the outcome. A foreign observer should be placed at these sensitive polling places. Results should not be announced until all the ballots have been counted, inputed into the computer, and certified. Observers who witnessed election fraud in other countries told me that some methods of fraud include removing a few names of a party’s supporters from the voters’ list in every polling station (four or five ballots in every one of 2300 station adds up to some 10K); making small changes to large numbers of tallies to alter results; impersonating other voters; and other ways.Every effort must be made to produce a credible election, in the words of President Granger. The Guyanese nation can’t ask for more.