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Saturday, March 25, 2006
Revised plan sees polls after Aug 4 deadline -GECOM to discuss it
Stabroek News

A delay in the holding of this year's elections appears inevitable after a revised election plan put polling day beyond the August 4th constitutional deadline.

Stabroek News has learnt that although it does not cater for a verification of the 2001 Official List of Electors (OLE), it allows for the holding of Claims and Objections concurrently with a comparative analysis of the fingerprints of registrants. The revision was produced by the Guyana Elections Commis-sion (GECOM) Secretariat with input from the Joint International Technical Assessors (JITA).

With a delay likely, this now creates an opening for the holding of an OLE verification needed for elections of acceptable standards, according to the parliamentary opposition parties. "The time objection to verification has evaporated, and we should now build it firmly into the new plan," WPA co-leader Dr Rupert Roopnaraine said yesterday. PNCR Chief Scrutineer Joseph Hamilton, meanwhile, said, "GECOM has to issue a statement or status update to report on the state of play." GECOM has not held a press conference since February 15 nor has it responded to growing concerns over verification and the endangering of the August 4 deadline.

If adopted by GECOM, when it meets on the plan next week, the schedule would necessitate constitutional arrangements to extend the life of Parliament as well as the term of the government. Parliament is due to be prorogued in the first week of May, while the government's term in office ends after August 4th. As a result, were GECOM to need an extension for the holding of the elections, it would have to so inform the stakeholders before the life of the Parliament ends as there is no precedent for recalling the House after it has been dissolved, as noted by MP Ravi Rev, recently. But extension, however, would involve having a two-thirds House majority, meaning the cooperation of the opposition. So far, the opposition parties are on record in support of a brief extension though it is likely that the conduct of a verification of the OLE would be a term of any such agreement. Indeed, an extension of the elections deadline would put to rest the argument of time as it relates to the conduct of verification. The time and cost associated with doing verification have been the main arguments of those opposed to the scheme, including a reported majority of GECOM commissioners. There has, however, been no vote or official resolution on the matter, though GECOM has been urged to clarify its policy. In 1990, the scheduled general election was postponed and eventually held in 1992 to facilitate electoral reforms. At that time, the PNC commanded a two-thirds majority.

The parliamentary opposition parties, the PNCR, the WPA and ROAR, have maintained that they accepted the use of the 2001 OLE as the basis for the process that would generate the 2006 preliminary list on the condition of verification. They have consistently said abandoning the programme would be bad faith on the commission's part and they say an election should not be held without verification.

Hamilton said that there had been a great attempt to misinform people on the need for verification when the commission had already indicated that it was in discussion over a methodology. "All the plans and proposals from the GECOM Secretariat, they don't exist in a vacuum," he said, adding that it was also catered for in the National Registration Amendment that was passed in the House last year.

Dr Roopnaraine explained that it is now vital for the commission to determine what needs to be done and how long it will take to accomplish the various outstanding tasks.

He added that the work plan could be reviewed and takes into account the concerns of the political stakeholders and thus determines the length of the extension required. "...The length of time required - that will dictate the attitude of the joint opposition parliamentary parties to the question of an extension," he added. He also said GECOM needs to guarantee an election of the standards identified last year in the support pact MOU, to which it is a signatory, along with the Government and the donor community. Both Roopnaraine and Hamilton said that the likely delay was not unexpected given the original projections for polls that were made last year.

Early drafts of the elections plan put the Election Day beyond the deadline, but this was later revised to meet a July polling date.

The latest JITA assessment reported on in yesterday's edition said that GECOM had arrived at a critical stage in the electoral process and urgent decisions had to be taken to meet the August 4 deadline.