By Indranie Deolall
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” is the chilling line from a rhyming couplet by William Shakespeare in his famous play “Macbeth,” that we whispered to each other along sunlit school corridors.
While we used it to warn of the imminent arrival of a much-disliked disciplinarian teacher or an obnoxious official, in the play it is uttered by the second of the three witches in Act Four, Scene One of the early 17th-century tragedy, who also cackled, “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”
Dramatising the negative effects of ruthless political ambition by those who seek power for its own sake, “Macbeth” is named for the initially much admired and brave Scottish general who received a fateful prophecy from the trio of hags that one day he would become King of Scotland.
Unchecked by moral constraints, he descends into inevitable destruction, undone by his deadly desires and desperate deeds, as the troubled land and frightened people are beset by strange inversions of the natural order.
Reflecting the ancient belief that sudden body pains and tingles were signs of events to come, the popular quotation forewarns us to be always prepared in modern culture and national politics, whether for the wicked or the unexpected.
So too the ears of Guyana’s beleaguered Elections Commission chairman, (GECOM) retired Justice Claudette Singh must be quite red, hot and ringing incessantly, given the latest uproar over her actions, this time by writing at least one letter to the Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) on allegations of illicit voting made by the incumbent President David Granger’s A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) governing coalition dominated by the People’s National Congress (PNC).
It was bizarre enough that Justice Singh did not see it fit to take such similar prompt action given Mingo’s magic machinations and meddling, but she expressed concern on June 1 over a ‘fake’ letter purporting to withdraw the correspondence to the police commissioner on May 22.
“The document which is being circulated on social media is bogus and tantamount to forgery since the use of the chairperson’s letterhead, signature and office stamp may have been copied from another letter and used by the author. The fake letter appears to be designed to create misinformation, mischief and cause confusion in an already politically charged environment. The chairperson is therefore urging persons to be tolerant in the tense atmosphere and desist from such unlawful and mischievous actions,” a GECOM press statement said.
Opposition parties including the main People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) criticised Justice Singh’s ‘genuine letter’ move, as beyond her remit and full with sinister implications, the privately-owned Stabroek News reported. Singh has not revealed her letter to the CIO, Leslie James who is also the commissioner of police, but the correspondence was first mentioned by APNU-appointed GECOM commissioner, Vincent Alexander last week and circulated days ago.
Signal to reject recount
Critics believe that the APNU+AFC is looking for ways to nullify the ongoing recount and discredit the March 2, 2020, general and regional elections, given that the recount exercise at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre is repeatedly confirming that the Returning Officer (RO) of the largest constituency, Region 4, Clairmont Mingo inflated numbers for the coalition and deflated numbers for their main rival the PPP/C during the tabulation process. Twice in March, Mingo used a doctored spreadsheet and unverified results to announce the coalition as the winner, with GECOM and the APNU/AFC each refusing to release their original Statements of Polls (SOPs).
By last Wednesday evening, on Day 29, of the extended recount, there were 2,014 boxes counted with 1,968 boxes or 84 percent tabulated by GECOM, according to The Citizenship Initiative (TCI) which reports daily updates through its Founding Member and App Developer, Shaz Ally at the party’s website https://www.guyanaresults.com/. Up to that point, the PPP/C was ahead with over 50 percent of the vote, taking 187,549 votes compared to 47 percent or 174,499 votes for APNU+AFC, a lead of 13,050 votes.
That night, the APNU+AFC strongly signalled it is preparing to reject the final recount result after making a series of wild objections and claims that have been discredited. Granger has insisted that he will accept the expected declaration of GECOM’s chairman, even though he has publicly maintained the APNU+AFC won the elections, with the coalition having celebrated its “victory” in street parties and parades, mere days after the Mingo declarations.
Damning OAS report
In the previous elections, with a registered overall voters’ turnout of 71 percent, the APNU joined the AFC in a coalition that was able to finally gain office in May 2015, winning by just about 4,500 votes, dislodging the PPP/C from its 23-years-old perch in power. The ruling party lost a no-confidence motion in parliament in December 2018, when its slim one-seat majority shifted with the surprise crossover vote by disgruntled AFC member, Charrandass Persaud, but the APNU+AFC regime refused to resign even as it lost related cases at the final Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and continued in office for more than a year following the motion.
Wednesday’s voting update for 2020 elections shows that nearly 350 boxes of the key and largest Region Four are still to be tabulated, as the initiative enters its final crucial stages. All 12 workstations were expected to be dedicated to this District Four sometime Thursday, which means that provided there are no prolonged disruptions or excessive objections, the recount should conclude by Sunday evening.
Immediately following the elections, the other nine Districts were processed and declared to the full satisfaction of all parties and international and local observers, including Granger and the APNU+AFC, as free and fair. During the Region Four count, however, the Returning Officer, Mingo broke the laws by abandoning the SOPs in the presence of authorised party representatives and observers. He chose “to rely instead on a spreadsheet of unknown origin which provided results that were significantly different than on the SOPs…” Head of the Observer Mission from the Organisation of American States (OAS), former Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding said in a recent damning initial report to the group. “I have never seen a more transparent effort to alter the result of an election,” Golding declared.
June 13 recount deadline
Only District Four needed to be re-checked and tabulated, but in his capacity as incumbent opposition leader, Bharrat Jagdeo eventually agreed that all the Regions would be recounted in no particular order, watched by a second team of CARICOM observers over an initial 25 days.
GECOM extended the recount deadline to on or before June 13, 2020, and by majority decision set to up to three days after the receipt of a final report from the Chief Election Officer (CEO) for the declaration of a result. The controversial Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield has until then to tabulate matrices for the recount of the 10 electoral districts and submit this report, and a summary of the observations for each District.
The Commission will deliberate and then decide whether it should ask Lowenfield to use the data for the presentation of a final report. It is unclear how long GECOM might take on the first document and whether there is a timeline for the CEO to deliver his final piece.
This week, warnings sounded. The PPP/C’s general secretary and former president, Jagdeo posted on Thursday that no one should be surprised by the APNU+AFC’s latest description of the elections, as “not credible”. He charged, the APNU+AFC “fought determinedly for Mingo’s fraudulent declarations to prevail. They never wanted a recount of the ballots. They even went to the Court to stop it. They tried at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to stop it. In the end, all their efforts failed. They knew that once the ballots were recounted, it would confirm the accuracy of the Statements of Poll (SOPs), which they continue to hide from public scrutiny.”
He claimed the PPP/C won the elections by over 15,000 votes, and said the nation expects GECOM to declare the recount results, in accordance with its amended Order. “The law and the Constitution provide a recourse for those who are aggrieved by the results of an election,” he added.
Earlier, the PPP/C voiced concern that “a political party APNU+AFC, not the government, was provided by the (Immigration Department) with the immigration records of citizens without their consent, which APNU+AFC is using for its nefarious political agenda. The matter is compounded by the commissioner of police purporting to verify the very information that … his servants/agents supplied to that political party.”
On Wednesday, the chairman of A New and United Guyana (ANUG), lawyer, Timothy Jonas asserted that GECOM cannot now void the electoral process but has to declare a winner and any allegations raised about the process must be tried in the High Court by way of an election petition.
One of the newly-formed smaller parties, ANUG earlier voiced alarm over Justice Singh’s letter and GECOM “acting on its own initiative to conduct a trial and receive evidence from a third party, an immigration department, and more so without the knowledge and instructions of (all the Commissioners of) GECOM.”
It pointed out that the conduct of a trial to receive evidence from external sources to ascertain the truth of the APNU claims is beyond the ambit of the Commission, saying “even if the Secretariat has not unlawfully gone on its own frolic but was acting with GECOM’s instruction” such “instructions will be unlawful.”
A slippery slope
Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), Lenox Shuman felt that, “madam chair is going down a very slippery slope,” noting there was overwhelming evidence of Mingo fudging numbers for the APNU+AFC and making a false declaration but yet there was no investigation by the Commission.
“If you’re looking for wrongdoing also, what we have seen in this recount is that Mingo’s numbers were completely flawed and inflated but yet there has been no attempt made to address that issue…We’re curious to know if madam chair is going to ask the police to come and conduct a criminal investigation into the conduct of Mingo and whoever else his cohorts may be.”
ANUG’s executive member, businessman Kian Jabour, summed it up. In a social media post-Tuesday, he noted, “We are entering the stage of the recount in Region 4, where Mingo manipulated the numbers the most during the first three declarations. ANUG will be monitoring this very carefully, to ensure they do not try to rig this election again. @ Arthur Chung Conference Centre.”
ID is hiding her throbbing thumbs as she hears the witches from “Macbeth,” “When shall we three meet again, In thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won” and “Fair is foul and foul is fair, Hover through the fog and filthy air.”