A sturdy paper trail

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By Indranie Deolall

“I have never seen a more transparent effort to alter the result of an election.” Wednesday’s unforgettable public statement, repeated by the former Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding was straightforward and stinging, despite confirming what we already know.

No decent Guyanese, wherever we live confined by the COVID-19 virus, can avoid cringing and feeling a profound sense of shame that the nation’s image and credibility have nosedived further with the latest outright condemnation of the infamous illegalities in “RIGBID-20” that followed the March 2, 2020 polls. Delivered on a respected hemispheric stage, the live OAS video presentation, attracted over 10,000 views on its Facebook page, within hours.

As Head of the Electoral Observation Mission from the Organisation of American States (OAS), Golding delivered his damning preliminary report to the grouping’s Permanent Council which held a virtual regular meeting Wednesday morning, on the Guyana situation and preparations for the upcoming General Assembly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics.

Appearing amused at times, the 72-year-old veteran politician reiterated that the polls were well executed up to the closing, but he pointed to the botched aftermath and the controversial actions of the District Four Returning Officer (RO), Clairmont Mingo, who he did not name.

“The final tabulation of results in Region Four were marred by several issues, which regrettably, came to taint the overall process and have led to the protracted delay in the declaration of results,” Golding acknowledged. He cited the repeated interruptions and disruptions by officials of the Guyana Elections Commission which undermined the transparency of the process. “Principal among these were the actions of the Returning Officer in abandoning the use of the SOPs (Statements of Polls) in the presence of the authorised party representatives, and to rely instead on a spreadsheet of unknown origin which provided results that were significantly different than on the SOPs…”

The Mission boss added that the RO made a final declaration for Region Four on March 5 even though the process was at a standstill with “a significant number” of SOPs remaining to be reviewed, noting that contrary to the law, the document bore the signature of the Chairman of the People’s National Congress (PNC), the main partner in the ruling A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC). The coalition is dominated by the PNC whose Chair, Volda Lawrence’s signature appears on the document, although Golding did not name her.

Golding reminded delegates including the OAS secretary-general, Luis Almagro, “More than a dozen SOPs are prepared at each polling station after the ballot boxes are counted on election night. One copy is pasted on the wall outside of the polling station and each party representative, and there are nine in all…is entitled to receive a copy.”

“You know it takes an extraordinarily courageous mind to present fictitious numbers when such a sturdy paper trail exists and this is being illustrated now as the recount proceeds,” he concluded, citing as examples a series of specific ballot box numbers that confirmed the noticeable inflation of voting figures in favour of the APNU+AFC and to the disadvantage of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP).

Indicating the latest recount figures from Tuesday, Golding highlighted the adjusted decreases for the APNU/AFC as against the increases for the PPP/C stressing, “I made the point earlier, I have never seen such a transparent effort to alter election results.”

Golding expressed concern about the ongoing absence of requisite permission for the Carter Center to return, and the likelihood of the recount lasting longer than the initial mandated 25 days, unless the pace is significantly improved, along with more consistent management of the work stations, given “the continued reiteration of issues that have already been resolved,” and party officials’ “insistence on actions and discussions that do not materially impact on the ballots themselves.”

According to its website, the OAS is the world’s oldest regional organization, dating back to the First International Conference of American States, held in Washington, DC, from October 1889 to April 1890. The present institution came into being in 1948 with the signing in Bogotá, Colombia, of the OAS Charter, which entered into force in 1951. It brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas, including Caribbean members Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago (1967), Jamaica (1969), Grenada, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, The Bahamas and St Kitts and Nevis. Guyana and Belize only joined in 1991. Constituting the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere, the Organization is based on democracy, human rights, security, and development.

At this week’s OAS caucus, Barbados’ ambassador, Noel Lynch who spoke on behalf of the chair of CARICOM, his country’s prime minister Mia Mottley, described the regional grouping as the “most legitimate interlocutors in the Guyana situation,” given that democracy matters to the Guyanese people and CARICOM.

“We have no interest in which political party wins the election. If each of the political parties genuinely believe it has won, then they should have no fear of the current recount, and they should all support it. CARICOM’s interest is that, at the end of the recounting process, democracy must be the winner,” the envoy pointed out.

Ambassador Lynch warned, “If democracy fails in any CARICOM country, it fails in the larger Community. If it is imperilled in any part of our Community, it is imperilled everywhere in it. As an institution, CARICOM cannot allow this to happen in any member state.”

He told the Permanent Council that had observer missions, including the OAS, not persevered in Guyana, “a result might have been declared that would not have commanded the acceptance of the Guyanese people, or the respect and approval of the international community,” recognising that “irregularities occurred not in the system by which the Guyanese electorate cast their votes on March 2nd, but in the presentation of the count afterwards.”

The OAS statements come as pressure mounts on the administration of incumbent president David Granger to do the right thing and concede in this fast-approaching endgame. Yet as the recount lumbers on with unknown dangers lingering from the eagle-eyed hardliners, and fears for the future, we can but take some comfort from ambassador Lynch’s reminder that democracy is sacrosanct and CARICOM will not abide its erosion.

ID looks forward, like her many weary countrymen to real efforts at democratic reconciliation and the peaceful acceptance of “a credible and transparent process to put into office a legitimate government.” 

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