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Compromise proposal on list verification rejected

A compromise proposal from the opposition parties on the vexed issue of verification of the preliminary voters list has been rejected by the ruling party.

According to a source familiar with the bilateral discussions, though the PPP leadership was interested in reaching a compromise its legal advisors nixed a concessionary offer by the PNCR, GAP-ROAR and the WPA. The concession by the opposition parties included giving up their demand for a house-to-house verification of names on the list in all 10 regions/electoral districts. But the governing party indicated that there were legal considerations standing in the way of any compromise, including the absence of legal provisions that would allow for the removal of names from the list in cases where persons were not found. They noted that this could provide the basis for subsequent claims or disenfranchisement and open the door to subsequent challenges in the courts.

The impasse closely mirrors the deadlock among the nominated members of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), which has been looking at the issue for close to two years. During that period, the governing party and the combined opposition have been at odds over the issue of a house-to-house verification of the names of registrants listed on the 2001 Official List of Electors (OLE), which has been used as the basis for the 2006 preliminary voters' list.

The question of verification also forestalled negotiations set up by the President and Opposition Leader to extend the life of the parliament in order to accommodate the election delay. As a result, the government controversially used a simple House majority to amend the constitution to give the elections commission an extra month for preparations, though there are a number of constitutional implications which the opposition say they will contest in court.

The failed government/opposition engagement was succeeded by the bilateral talks on verification, which were initiated by the PPP. PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar and Executive Committee member Dr Roger Luncheon were identified as the representatives for the governing party, while PNCR Chairman Winston Murray and the party's Chief Whip Lance Carberry were named as the reps for the opposition parties.

Stabroek News has learnt that the opposition parties indicated that they were willing to limit their call to a field verification in selected regions during an extended Claims and Objections period. They proposed house-to-house visits to verify the existence and residence of persons on the 2001 OLE in regions/electoral districts identified by GECOM in time for commencement by May 17.

In these selected regions/districts, the names of persons on the 2001 OLE would be separated from the rest of the preliminary list, and the remainder would be subjected to the normal scrutiny through claims and objections. The actual verification procedures envisaged by the opposition parties are already set out in the GECOM Manual and Instructions for Registration Officers and Staff for the Claims and Objections Period. Added to this, they wanted GECOM to take into account information from the parties on the commonality of names related to the existence and residence of persons listed within the electoral divisions.

Outside of the verification, the opposition proposed that all electoral districts, including those where a verification would not be done, would observe the normal claims and objections procedures using the list that has been published.

Previously, the opposition had been calling for GECOM to conduct a field verification of names on the 2001 OLE in all ten regions, in keeping with the commission's initial proposals for the voter registration exercise. They say that their call for the house-to-house exercise was in lieu of their initial call for a new national registration exercise.

The arguments for verification have been based in part on the discrepancies between initial projections for new registrants and the numbers actually recorded during the recently-concluded continuous registration cycle. Other arguments include concerns over the number of dead and migrant registrants who might still be on the list, notwithstanding partial sanitisation. But time and cost considerations have been the rationale against conducting any field verification exercise. Currently, GECOM is working towards September elections, after it indicated it could not meet the original August 4 constitutional deadline.

Stabroek News