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Wednesday, March 29, 2006
From Stabroek News...
Still no definite word on poll deadline - draft revised plan for review, commission to meet again
Protesters who demonstrated outside the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Headquarters yesterday. (Photo by Ken Moore)

Discussions began yesterday on the draft of a revised election plan but by the end of it the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was no closer to definite word on if it could meet the August 4 deadline while the contesting parties remained at odds over the possible implications.

Scores of protesters carrying placards descended on GECOM's Kingston Headquarters yesterday afternoon, while inside, members of the commission met to discuss the draft, which puts Election Day more than a month behind the constitutional deadline. Opposition Leader Robert Corbin yesterday wrote to President Bharrat Jagdeo warning that the country may be on the verge of a constitutional crisis.

Reliable sources informed last evening that the draft revision is to be the subject of a review today by technical officers from the GECOM Secretariat and a Joint International Technical Assessor (JITA) in order to correct a number of anomalies that feature in the document and to look at whether an accepted deadline can be had. Following today's technical review, a special commission meeting is planned for tomorrow to resume discussions on the revised plan and production of a Preliminary Voters' List (PVL). Already the commission has taken the decision to begin preparation of the list, involving, among other things, the removal of the names of dead registrants. But there is yet to be a resolution on the actual production of the list, which is another activity beset by GECOM's failure to reach a resolution on verification of the 2001 Official List of Electors (OLE). Picketers outside the commission yesterday were calling for verification.

So far, the ruling PPP has rejected verification and the suggestion of a post-August 4 election. Stabroek News also understands that the three PPP-nominated commissioners, Dr Keshav "Bud" Mangal, Mahmoud Shah and Moen McDoom, have officially written to GECOM to make it clear that they would not be inclined to any "manoeuvres" that would delay elections past the deadline.

At the same time, the joint opposition parties, PNCR, GAP-WPA and ROAR, continue to complain over the absence of a number of key items in the draft plan, including its failure to account for verification of the 2001 OLE. The plan also caters for Claims and Objections simultaneous with the EOJ electronic fingerprint analysis. The commission has still not made a final determination on these two items.

GECOM commissioners preparing for the start of yesterday's statutory meeting. At the head of the table is GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally, while on his right are (in descending order) PPP-commissioners Dr Bud Mangal, Moen McDoon, and Mahmoud Shah and o

These discrepancies were among the reasons that prompted PNCR leader Corbin to write to President Jagdeo yesterday. He drew attention to the abandonment of critical plans without any reference to stakeholders, including the parliamentary opposition.

He added that the last correspondence from GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally, dated February 14, 2006, had stated categorically that GECOM had decided to pursue verification, although one aspect was still unresolved. He said no other information was available from GECOM since. As regards the PPP's position on verification, Corbin said it was worrying, particularly in view of what he described as the "understandings arrived at in good faith" before the passage of Continuous Registration Bill last year. According to him, discussions between the PPP, the PNCR and GECOM resulted in the amendment to the Bill that allowed GECOM to undertake a verification of the 2001 OLE. (The PPP has, however, pointed out that this is a discretionary proviso and as a result GECOM is not bound by law to do verification.) Corbin said the breach of good faith amounted to a breach of the MOU signed between GECOM, the government and the donor community, which emphasised stakeholder confidence as essential to transparent elections. He said careful evaluation of all that has transpired would suggest a serious misrepresentation on the part of the GECOM chairman to the parliamentary opposition parties, "a situation that cannot be countenanced in our responsibility to create a secure and healthy environment for holding elections."

Meanwhile, Corbin also raised his concern over meetings that were held at the Office of the President on Monday between GECOM officials, members of the donor community and President Jagdeo. The meeting was convened as a result of concerns generated by the draft of the revised election plan.

However, Corbin claimed that reports out of the meeting were disturbing as they suggested that the President was, under no circumstances, prepared to accept elections past the constitutional deadline. This and other alleged statements made by the President led Corbin to warn about the exercise of undue influence on commissioners and staff. He said, "In these circumstances we hope that good sense will prevail and that the interest of the nation will supersede partisan political considerations."

Indeed, he added, there was no doubt that there is urgent need for GECOM to take all stakeholders into its confidence and discuss its difficulties. "These difficulties must be viewed in the context of many unresolved issues that attend several concerns of the parliamentary opposition parties which have so far stated their intention to contest the next elections," he said, while adding that the country may be on the verge of a constitutional crisis. "I can assure you that the parliamentary opposition parties stand ready to be involved in any meaningful discussions aimed at resolving all outstanding issues and directed to accomplishing this objective that all our people desire and that our donor partners have expressed..." He said.

Parliament is due to be prorogued in the first week of May, while the government's term in office ends after August 4. As a result, were GECOM to need an extension for the holding of the elections, it would have to so inform before the life of the Parliament ends as there is no precedent for recalling the house after it has been dissolved. An extension, however, would involve having a two-thirds House majority. The opposition, so far, is on record as supporting a brief extension though it is likely that the conduct of a verification of the OLE would be a term of any such agreement as well as a number of other conditions.