A patient people

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By Indranie Deolall

Last Tuesday, Guyana’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield proved he was even more mathematically and morally challenged than the infamous Clairmont Mingo, when he arbitrarily invalidated without any explanation nearly a quarter of the total votes cast at the March 2, 2020 polls.

Lowenfield’s latest stunning submission to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) abruptly disenfranchising over 115,700 voters, and instead of handing victory to the incumbent coalition, came only a day after a majority ruling by the Appeal Court, on a related last-minute motion filed to prevent the Commission from using the verified results of the recent National Recount to make a closing declaration.

Now, the country is back anxiously waiting on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which has issued an order that restrains the Commission from declaring the results, following a decision by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to challenge Monday’s Appeal Court ruling on the constitutional meaning of “votes cast” at the elections and to pre-empt Lowenfield’s outrageous move. The CCJ hearing last Wednesday.

Pressure is mounting on the still reluctant A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) group dominated by the People’s National Congress (PNC), to concede, with new statements from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth and the Guyana-based ambassadors of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and the European Union (EU).

The Organization of American States (OAS) was particularly blunt, declaring, “It is undeniable that this election has gone on long enough,” urging “an end, based on the results of the national recount, and with respect for the will of the majority of the electorate.”

“Guyana’s 2020 elections have been reviewed repeatedly and extensively by both national and regional courts. While the OAS General Secretariat advocates for the right of all citizens to access electoral justice, there is a fine line between the right to redress and the use of the courts to stall the electoral process,” it said.

In an April statement, the OAS had criticised an initial proposal by the CEO requiring five months to recount less than 500,000 ballots, “as unheard of in any democracy” and “unacceptable under any circumstances.” It had cautioned GECOM to take particular care to ensure that “the officials to be engaged in the recount are selected based on their impartiality and those who have displayed partisan behaviour are excluded.”

Local organisations like the Private Sector Commission (PSC) this week urged the CEO’s suspension from any further participation in the election process charging that his latest cut computation is “clearly fraudulent…if not criminal.”

In the more than 100-days of gripping public drama that has marked the aftermath of “the mother of all elections,” there seems to be no final curtain in-sight to the extended theatrics in the ongoing rigging conspiracy to keep the coalition in power, as weary Guyanese struggle to keep up with the surreal, the sensational and the squalid, in the midst of serious sickness and a spreading pandemic.

The 33-day National Recount at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre was undertaken at the request of the incumbent president David Granger with the agreement of the PPP/C’s general-secretary, former president Bharrat Jagdeo. It repeatedly confirmed that the Returning Officer (RO) of the largest constituency, Region 4, Mingo inflated numbers for the coalition and slashed those for their main rival the PPP/C during the botched tabulation process. Twice in March, Mingo used a crudely doctored spreadsheet and unverified results to announce the APNU+AFC as the winner, with both GECOM and the governing group inexplicably refusing to release their original Statements of Polls (SOPs).

Earlier this month, Lowenfield took to the public stage to deliver a shameful showing, questioning the very credibility of the electoral process, in an ironic indictment of himself, and thousands of polling day workers who toiled at 2,339 polling stations across the ten regions to ensure the required procedures were followed. Then, he calculated there were only 185,260 valid votes, 125,010 of which were cast for the incumbent APNU+AFC and 56,628 for the PPP/C.

It was just a week ago that Lowenfield also failed to show up at a Commission meeting to formally submit the report of the valid votes, based on the Recount which was observed and deemed credible by a three-member CARICOM team, and other representatives including from the various political parties, the OAS and the EU.

The report was expected to show the Recount tabulations for the 10 electoral districts and a summary of the spurious observation claims raised by APNU+AFC agents. These matrices certified by GECOM indicated that the PPP/C secured around 233,000 votes compared to the nearly 218,000 taken by the incumbent APNU+AFC, a lead of some 15,000 votes

Lowenfield’s absence was in dramatic contravention of a directive from the GECOM chair, retired Justice Claudette Singh. A Commission meeting to receive and discuss that report had to be adjourned since the government-nominated Commissioners Desmond Trotman and Charles Corbin were also conspicuously missing so there was no requisite quorum. Justice Singh has taken no public action against Lowenfield or  Mingo and is yet to publicly affirm her commitment to certify the Recount results as the final outcome of the elections.

Now Lowenfield has surely outdone himself, apparently forgetting his earlier figures and using a different calculator perhaps the faulty one shared with Mingo, suddenly lowering the valid vote count in each Electoral District and submitting a puzzling, revised total of 344,508 votes, far less than the 460,295 votes that were verified during the Recount.

Outgoing CARICOM chair, the no-nonsense prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley who had agreed to the organisation’s official overseeing of the Recount a second time, after an APNU candidate went to Court to stop the initiative, looked and sounded understandably livid Wednesday.

Acknowledging the region’s “great sadness” over Guyana, she condemned “the level of gamesmanship that has left much to be desired” and which “has definitely not portrayed our Caribbean region in the best light.”

“This is definitely NOT our finest hour and we MUST NOT shy away from that reality,” she thundered in an online video, insisting “that every vote must count and every vote must be made to count in a fair and transparent way.”

Mottley voiced CARICOM’s concerns that the CEO has submitted a report “contrary to the directions given by the Commission and which does not reflect the results of the recount process as certified by the very Guyana Elections Commission and indeed witnessed by representatives of the political parties.”

“The CARICOM Observer Team was of the unshakeable belief that the people of Guyana expressed their will at the ballot box on March 2 and that the results of the recount certified as valid by the staff of the Guyana Elections Commission led to an orderly conclusion on which the declaration of the results of the Election could and would be made. Therefore, we must ask – on what grounds and by what form of executive fiat does the chief elections officer determine that he should invalidate one vote, far less over 115 000 votes when the votes were already certified as valid by the officers of the Guyana Elections Commission in the presence of the said political parties?”

The prime minister warned “the role and focus of political parties must be useful, and not obstructive in embracing and promoting the clear and expressed will of the people,” for “when we confuse and frustrate that will, is when we begin to sow the very seeds of discord and acrimony that we are sworn to dissuade and discourage.”

Attempts to provide different numbers have “left many in shock and wondering what next will happen to frustrate the will of the Guyanese people,” she admitted.

The Barbados leader noted CARICOM believes “no voter must be disenfranchised in determining the credibility of this or any election,” stressing that this commitment to a fair and transparent political process led the grouping to send two Electoral Observation Missions. “In addition, four prime ministers accompanied me to talk to both sides and to urge patience especially after the loss of one life. We thank you the Guyanese people for that patience.”

“As you await the finalisation of this process, we urge again that you be patient and that you be committed to the fact that no electoral process can replace the life of any Guyanese or anyone for that matter. There must be room for all regardless of who wins and who loses,” the prime minister asserted.

Mottley has spoken strongly, unlike the strangely silent and noticeably missing Granger, as the nation, the region and the world wonder how much more dysfunction, despair and dark detours, the patient Guyanese people will endure.

ID worries about the view of the Nobel Prize Winner, the Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka, “Any fool, any moron, any psychopath can aspire to the seizure and exercise of power, and of course the more psychopathic, the more efficient.”

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