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Wednesday, May 31, 2006
List verification
GECOM to seek legal opinion

The elections commission yesterday decided to obtain a legal opinion on whether it is obliged to carry out a full house-to-house verification of the 2001 voters' list and the two remaining opposition-nominated members refused to continue participation without a positive commitment on the issue.

Lloyd Joseph and Robert Williams walked out of a statutory commission meeting yesterday, saying that they were unwilling to participate in more meetings unless they were assured of a commitment that there would be a verification of the 2001 OLE.

The two commissioners took action after weeks of wrangling over the contentious issue which has split the commission between the opposition-nominated members and their counterparts nominated by the governing party. Opposition-nominated member Haslyn Parris withdrew his participation from the commission last week, dissociating himself from a process he felt was irretrievable. However, Joseph and Williams stayed on in hopes of reaching a compromise on verification, which has been demanded by the combined opposition parties.

A statement yesterday by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) said that the commission decided to get an independent legal opinion on the question of its obligation to do verification based on a submission made by an opposition- nominated member. The statement referred to a proposal on verification submitted by Joseph at a statutory commission meeting last week, which argued that by virtue of Section 2 (f) of the Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 36 of 1991, GECOM is legally obliged to conduct a full house-to-house verification of the 2001 list.

The GECOM statement noted that the decision to get an independent opinion on the commission's obligations was suggested by a government-nominated member of the panel. The commissioner, the statement said, felt that it would be unwise for GECOM to decide on whether it would move towards conducting house-to-house verification based on a submission by the opposition-nominated member. Joseph and Williams indicated that Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally could avail them of the opinion on the issue and they would decide whether they would resume their participation. However, the statement made it clear that they wanted a positive assurance on the issue. It added that Dr Surujbally did entreat them to remain at yesterday's meeting since there were other important issues on the agenda to be discussed.

"They declined on the grounds that the matter of house-to-house verification was of primary concern," the statement said. The commission is scheduled to meet again tomorrow.

Joseph submitted a proposal last Thursday on verification based on a request by PPP-nominated members of the commission, Dr Keshav Mangal, Mohamood Shaw and Moen McDoom, who wanted a methodology for a verification exercise in order to decide whether or not the commission should revisit the issue. Previously, the commission, without the support of the opposition-nominated members, decided against verification. Parris had originally submitted the verification proposal before his withdrawal but it was never discussed. All three opposition-nominated members had withdrawn at the start of April, citing the handling of verification, among other issues. Their return to the commission was on the condition that the issue would have been swiftly resolved.

The verification proposal envisages an exercise being conducted in Regions 3,4,5,6 and 10, within a time frame to ensure general elections before the end of 2006. The proposal uses the discrepancies revealed by a comparison of the projected population 17 years and older (at the end of March) and the voting population on the 2001 voters list, broken down by region. Although the proposal does not carry a timeframe, it is expected that a field verification exercise could be conducted in less than 42 days, which is the period that the GECOM Secretariat had allocated for a verification of the entire country. The proposal would also see an extension of claims and objections to permit better scrutiny of the voters' list, while political parties would be free to conduct their own investigations in the regions not included in the limited exercise. The extended claims period is expected to allow GECOM to evaluate the results of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) fingerprinting project, which is aimed at detecting possible multiple registrants listed on the preliminary list.

The EOJ project has so far seen the scanning of the fingerprints for over 500,000 registrants (from the 2001 list and new registrants from the 2005/2006 registration cycle) and these have been sent for analysis in Jamaica with results expected tomorrow.

Additionally, one of the contentious points in the impasse between the government and opposition on the verification issue has been what would be done with registrants who are not found during a field exercise. It has been argued that to remove such persons from the list could open up the commission to liability for disenfranchising legitimate voters. But the proposal is said to argue that there was no change in law or apparent conflict when the methodology was employed for dealing with persons who did not appear to be photographed in 2001. This was accomplished by an amendment, which is still law and it is suggested that this would enable GECOM to devise a method where no elector can be disenfranchised.

Last week, PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar signalled that the ruling party was unwilling to countenance the latest verification proposal, since while it seeks an exercise limited to only half the country's regions, it would still cover more than 90% of the population

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