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Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Poll delay closer
Stabroek News
-GECOM to meet President

Still unable to meet the constitutional deadline for the upcoming elections, the Guyana Elections Commis-sion (GECOM) is now seeking an urgent audience with President Bharrat Jagdeo to inform of the likelihood of a postponement.

The latest revised election management plan puts the poll date at September 18.

At much more than a full month behind the August 4 constitutional deadline, the revision was met yesterday with strong criticism from the ruling PPP which said GECOM had not entertained a submission by its technical personnel that the polls could be held by August 4.

It added that GECOM's technical officers appear to be bowing to pressure from the opposition. In a statement issued last evening, the party said, "GECOM must not give into the opposition's blackmailing to push elections beyond the constitutional due date."

A delay in the elections has not been entirely unexpected. The Joint International Technical Assessor (JITA) report dated March 31 noted that there are a number of critical operational delays that could impact on the deadline. Though the report considered it premature to determine the impact of the delays, it advised that stakeholders must be prepared for the possibility of an election beyond the constitutional deadline.

At the start of the week the ruling party maintained that the polls could be held by the deadline if the commission would reduce the number of days set side for the completion of various activities in the run-up to the election. The PPP submitted its own revision of the election plan to the commission with a July 24 target date.

Stabroek News has learnt that subsequent to the communication from the party, the GECOM Secretariat undertook another revision of the election plan and came up with the September date. Since the plan was updated two weeks ago it has gone through several revisions. The most recent, until yesterday, had put the date at August 22. It is unclear what factors led to an even further extension but one member of the commission pointed out that the plan could not be accepted as final since there were still several activities that were not included. One of the three PPP-nominated commissioners was said to have rejected the September 18 plan outright, while the remaining two gave no commitments.

The PPP said in its statement that GECOM did not entertain its revised plan yesterday and expressed its disappointment with this development. "The party is dismayed that there is now another attempt by the operations department of GECOM to engineer a delay in holding elections outside the constitutional due date by way of another proposal on a revised elections timetable," the party said.

It added that it appeared as if GECOM's technical staff was falling prey to what it described as a "campaign of bullyism and threats" by the main opposition PNCR.

The opposition parties, PNCR, WPA and ROAR, have been lobbying for a verification of the 2001 Official List of Electors (OLE), which is to be used in the creation of a new voters list. However, none of the revised plans have catered for the conduct of a verification exercise although the parties contend that it is a prerequisite if elections are to be accepted as free, fair and transparent. They maintain that this is still among the outstanding issues before the commission, the question of conducting Claims and Objections prior to the conclusion of the ongoing Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) fingerprint analysis being another.

Stabroek News was told that the commission had taken the position yesterday that verification was a political issue that needed to be resolved by the politicians and this would be one of the points for discussion at its meeting with President Jagdeo.

This session of Parliament is due to be dissolved in the first week of May, while the government's term in office will end after the August 4 deadline.

The government lacks a two-thirds majority in the House to push an extension on its own and would require the cooperation of the opposition parties.

The opposition parties are on record in support of a brief extension though they have listed a number of conditions, the verification of the OLE and equitable access to the state-owned media being two that have been identified.

On Wednesday, the Canadian High Commission, the British High Commission, the United States Embassy and the European Commis-sion Delegation, who are the International Signatories to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the support of general elections in Guyana, issued a joint statement reiterating their commitment to free and fair elections in accordance with the Constitution.

The International Signa-tories said they were satisfied that GECOM had the technical capability and capacity and had "received in a timely manner all the technical and financial support needed from the government of Guyana and the international community to deliver free and fair elections within the constitutional timeframe".

Meanwhile, in a GINA press release last night, President Jagdeo was reported as telling a press conference in New York that one of the biggest challenges that the country faces is the conduct of elections in a free and fair manner and prior to the August 4 deadline. He added that he was pleased by a statement by the donor community that GECOM has no excuse for not meeting the deadline.

"This year alone we have over US$15M available to the Commission to conduct these elections", he said.

The President added "if it (the elections) goes beyond that date through no fault of ours - the Constitution is clear - the government remains in office until elections are held. We don't have any intention of having any interim government in Guyana".