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The governing party has signalled that it is unprepared to compromise on the question of a house-to-house verification of the preliminary voters' list, calling it an attempt to disenfranchise voters.

The party also says that it remains confident that this year's elections can be run off before the constitutional deadline despite the election body's latest projections that point to a further delay.

PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar told a press briefing yesterday that the opposition's request for a limited-scope field verification of the list would still cover almost 100% of the country's population though narrowed to just five regions. He added that by the ongoing claims and objections exercise, the list has practically been subjected to five verifications already. Added to this, he noted the polling day measures to prevent persons not on the list from voting.

"The PPP is prepared to discuss additional measures on polling day to further ensure that it will be impossible for any unauthorised person to vote," Ramotar said, indicating that this was the only area that the party might be willing to explore in the way of additional safeguards against voting fraud. Ramotar claimed that this was the basis for the party's recent bilateral discussions with the combined opposition parties. The talks, however, failed.

"A myriad of false allegations have been made over the past few months for the purpose of stoking flames of uncertainty over an electoral process which, with generous donor help, has developed an open scheme and structure for elections known to all," he charged, having listed the findings of audits performed on 2001 voters' list. The 2001 list, which was the basis for the start of continuous registration, was merged with the list of new electors culled from a recent registration exercise to constitute the 2006 preliminary list.

However, the combined opposition of the PNCR, GAP-ROAR and the WPA has made a case for having a verification exercise, citing their concerns over the number of dead registrants on the 2001 list as well as migrants who are no longer resident here. On this latter point, they have argued that if a new national registration were the basis for the start of continuous registration the names of those persons would have been removed.

The vexed issue has been at the centre of an impasse between the government and opposition-nominated members of GECOM, which is now studying a proposal by the latter for a field verification exercise limited to Regions Three, Four, Five, Six and Ten. It is anticipated that the entire exercise could be completed.

But based on the statements made yesterday by Ramotar and PPP executive, Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy, the proposal might be rejected outright. Ramsammy said a lot of people were misinterpreting what the opposition has been asking for. He said the proposal envisages a full verification in the regions identified, which he said is over 90% of the country's population.

"They are talking about a 100% house to house verification in the regions," he said.

Asked whether the party would countenance a verification of samples from those regions, Ramotar said such a proposal was not on the table and the party was not considering it at this point in time. Indeed, he reiterated his past statements on the verification issue: that the 2001 photographing exercise amounted to an entirely new registration, while disenfranchising thousands of voters.

"They say that the list has more people than it ought to have... The objective is once again to remove names from the voters' list so that supporters of the PPP will be disenfranchised," he said, while recalling the PNCR's block objection to 40,000 names on the 2001 list. He noted that since that time, there have been two international audits and a field verification of the 72,000 new electors on the current list. With the ongoing fingerprint exercise by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) to check for duplicate registrations and claims and objections, he said this amounted to five verification exercises.

Ramotar said the recent extension of the claims and objections period by 12 days would provide the political parties with an opportunity to make house-to-house or other checks to ensure that ineligible names are objected to. He said the 40,000 objections in 2001, though incorrect, demonstrated the PNCR's capacity to test the list and object where it felt names were wrongly included on the list.

"This is the function of all political parties in all democratic countries. The PNCR does not want to do any political work. It wants to be pampered by GECOM while sowing confusion and creating false perceptions," Ramotar declared.

Last week, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) described the impasse bet-ween the members of commission as "dangerous" and urged that a national random sample to verify the 2006 preliminary list be considered to defuse the political controversy over the question of verification. PSC Chairman Yesu Persaud, in a letter to the commission dated May 23, also noted the need for the commission to advise the public on what is required under the law with regard to the matter of residency, since it appears central to resolving the verification quandary.

Ramotar said clarifying the "residency requirement" was important, although he felt there was none and a person is entitled to vote once registered.

'Poll delay'

The extension of the claims and objections period has, however, fostered concerns over GECOM meeting the constitutional deadline for elections. The September 2 deadline was set after the commission announced in March that it was unable to meet its original August 4 target and government subsequently amended the constitution by a simple majority vote to accommodate the lapse (although the legality of the amendment is now the subject of a lawsuit).

GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally told a news conference on Thursday that the commission was approa-ched by the governing party and the combined opposition "to extend claims and objections to give additional time for persons desirous of making claims to entry to the OLE (Official List of Electors/voters list."

But Ramotar denied that the party made any such request of the commission. "I don't know which political parties wrote to GECOM, but I will tell you emphatically that the PPP/C did not request... an extension of time," he said.

Nonetheless, as a result of the extension the GECOM Secretariat's most recent draft of its revised election plan puts polling day at September 12, 10 days behind the deadline. Added to this, the constitutional amendment has placed the government in a situation where the new parliamentary session must begin by the poll deadline at the latest. What remains to be seen, is what would happen if GECOM officially announces that it couldn't meet the new deadline. Ramsammy said the government is prepared for any eventuality and that there are options available to it. "...I don't think this is the appropriate time to address that. GECOM is in charge of the elections in this country.

The PPP/C will represent its case as vigorously... robustly as it can, but in the final analysis GECOM will decide on the time for election, when they are ready and the President will make an an-nouncement and if that decision is not possible before September 3, the government will exercise options that are available to it. I am not going to discuss those options today," he said.

Ramotar stressed that the September 12 date was merely a position put forward by the GECOM Secretariat and has not been accepted by the members of the commission.

He added that the party's experts disagree with any shift in the election plan, while Ramsammy suggested that elections might be possible long before the deadline.

He said the previous election plan, with the August 31 polling day, contained roughly 20 flexible days, allowing GECOM to have slippages in certain activities. In this light, Ramsammy maintained, the "extension should not affect the holding of elections before August 31."

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