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Monday, February 06, 2006
WPA still undecided on contesting elections - Roopnaraine

-wants national unity govt after polls

WPA Co-Leader, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine says his party is still undecided on contesting the upcoming elections, has concerns about the poll preparations and is plugging for a national unity government.

Roopnaraine does not believe that postponing the elections would yield electoral reforms, unless the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) gave an "absolute" assurance that within a specific period of time, certain things could be achieved.

Roopnaraine told Stabroek News in an interview last week that he felt the WPA would not have any strong objections to GECOM taking a few extra weeks, maybe two months, to complete preparatory work for the upcoming general elections if it were required.

The WPA has not yet decided on elections; whether it would contest or in what form. He said a lot would also depend on the party being satisfied with the electoral preparations as there would be no point in going to the elections if it were likely to give rise to disorder.

He said the WPA was "far from satisfied" that the technical areas were being dealt with as efficiently and as expeditiously as they would like to see. The WPA had formed an alliance with the Guyana Action Party for the 2001 alliance which holds two seats in Parliament. The alliance has now been formally dissolved.

Roopnaraine said the joint parliamentary opposition has had two areas of concern - technical and the electoral system - which were discussed with some civil society organisations and non-parliamentary parties during August/September last year.

On the electoral system, he said, the parties on the Oversight Committee agreed that the electoral system used in 2001 would be a one-off system; that between 2001 and 2006 they would refine it to give real substance to the constituency element and deal with other anomalies that had arisen during the implementation of the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) recommendations on the electoral system. "Now none of that happened and we remain very concerned," he said.

Apart from the electoral system, the WPA believes it is important and vital to get the technical dimensions - such as registration and verification of names of voters - of the elections right, he said. Some of the problems associated with the registration process have to do with few centres, the distance to access the centres, and a large number of young people staying away from the centres because they are unable to read and write.

He recalled a registration official in 1992 saying that a number of young people in the village near where he lived could not sign their names. "This trend has unfortunately continued and there are now a number of people who are shy to reveal the fact that they cannot sign their names," he said.

As part of the joint parliamentary opposition, that has expressed concern to GECOM on a number of issues including the need to use biometrics, Roopnaraine said that the biometrics element has been dealt with by the Jamaicans. The biometrics system would help with the question of possible multiple registering on the Official List of Electors (OLE) after which there would be verification, which GECOM has not yet settled, he said.

"Although Parliament has given GECOM the power to determine the methodology for verification, up till now GECOM has told us nothing about the method they are going to use to verify the list... It's a very vexed matter."

He said, "It is very unfortunate that these matters were raised for the better part of the last three years. Then in the end when there is little time left you come and say there is not enough time to do anything."

In 2001, he said, they settled on the ad hoc electoral system because there was not enough time to get things done.

"Now between 2001 and 2006 we have had five years; and five months before the elections when the things still have not been done, you make those of us who have been raising it for the past five years sound as though we are now erecting some new obstacles to the holding of elections," he said.

One of the changes he would like to see in the electoral system are constituencies drawn because he does not believe the ten administrative regions were designed to be electoral constituencies and cannot function as such. A constituency must be a manageable geographical unit within which citizens have a direct relationship with a Member of Parliament, he said. "That is what the CRC intended. That is not what we have. Now when are we going to get that?"

He said a major difficulty in achieving the requirements for the current elections lies in the nature of GECOM. The elections commission, which was put in place in 1992, was a negotiated solution for the problems at the time. He recalled that on the Bollers Commission, the government had a built-in 2 to 1 majority. The commission that replaced the Bollers Commission (through the intervention of former US president, Jimmy Carter), might have worked for the 2001 elections, Roopnaraine said, but it was now proving dysfunctional.

The reformed commission comprised three government nominees and three from the parliamentary opposition based on consultations. The chairman is a consensus candidate drawn from a list of six names nominated by the opposition.

This method, Roopnaraine said, has proven dysfunctional as the political conflict in the society finds itself into the body politic of the commission resulting in a national political crisis being played out within GECOM. Roopnaraine said it means that GECOM's system of decision-making becomes burdensome when crucial decisions are to be made on a very divided commission.

Expressing the hope that this year would be the last that political parties would be dealing with this type of commission, he said during the CRC process they attempted to get the kind of constitutional commission there is in Jamaica, which is made up of respected people in the society and people of integrity. Though people in general are influenced by politics, he said, people on the Jamaican commission are expected by the society to be impartial and fair and behave in a certain way. "I feel that is the kind of commission we have to aim to get because this form of commission is taking us no place."

Failure to achieve the elections deliverables on time has a great deal to do with the nature of this commission, he added.

Out of the constitutional reform, however, the chairman of the commission is no longer permitted to make a declaration of his own volition. It has to be made by the entire commission.

Reiterating the need for a government of national unity after the elections, Roopnaraine said people who participate in a national government should be

voted in by the electorate. "All of our experiences in Guyana from 1957 to 2006 should have taught us that no one political party could run Guyana. That each of the two main political parties can apply sanctions to the other if they are in opposition has been the story from then to now. It would continue for as long as either of the two is excluded from a government of national unity," he said.

Asked about the Big Tent policy as advocated by PNCR Leader Robert Corbin causing a rift between some members of the Guyana Third Force (GTF), Roopnaraine said, "that may well be so." However, he said Corbin's view was no secret, it has been discussed and it was part of the political environment since the PNCR's last biennial congress. "I have no doubt that there are parties inside the Third Force platform that have differing views on it. That is not a secret," he said. The Leader of the Guyana Action Party Paul Hardy recently announced he was leaving the GTF after disagreements with other leaders but he remains committed to the concept of a third force.

Disenchantment

Asked about the membership of the WPA, Roopnaraine said there are members' groups in some areas including Georgetown and in the regions. The WPA was not as vibrantly organised as it once was owing to the disenchantment after every elections the WPA would have taken part in, he said. Resource restrictions have also put limits on the amount of work the party could do as it is not a wealthy party that receives money from questionable or even impeccable sources.

Frankly speaking, he said, the WPA has not had a members' meeting since before the 2001 general elections because of the lack of resources to mobilise all its members many of whom are found in Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) and Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo). One such meeting is currently on the agenda, as the party's constitution requires a general members' meeting for certain decisions to be made.

He said WPA members were extremely active in a number of civil society organizations, and more recently in relation to the national emergency situation and not for narrow party political objectives.

Asked about his absence from Guyana frequently and his involvement in Guyana's politics, Roopnaraine, who is currently observing the general elections in Uganda as part of a Commonwealth mission, said "Whether you see me or not this is what I do."

Asked about being part of a lobbying mission to Washington to meet officials of the US State Department allegedly along with other members of another opposition party, Roopnaraine said, "That is completely false. We happened to have been in the US at the same time but we did not at any time discuss the postponement of elections or the setting up of any interim government prior to the elections in any of the discussions and I would challenge anyone on that."

Asked about the Guyana Third Force Platform on which he represents the WPA, he said only the chairperson, the current one being ROAR Leader, Ravi Dev, was allowed to make statements on behalf of the platform as agreed to by consensus.

Stabroek News