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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The elections commission yesterday said that it was on track to deliver polls by its deadline and it held to the opinion that it was not legally obligated to verify the 2001 voters' list by house to house visits.

"At this time, [the Guyana Elections Commission] is convinced that it will be able to bring off elections as scheduled in the electoral calendar, unless it is thrown off by political interferences," a statement from GECOM said yesterday. The statement was prompted by comments made by WPA co-leader Dr Rupert Roopnaraine at a news conference on Monday.

The statement said both the commission and the secretariat are working towards holding the elections in accordance with the electoral calendar, though it added that this schedule was subject to review with the assistance of the Joint International Technical Assessors.

When it announced that it was no longer able to meet its original deadline of August 4, GECOM submitted a plan for elections by August 31 to President Bharrat Jagdeo. A subsequent review of the plan puts elections at September 12, ten days beyond the new constitutional deadline.

GECOM said Dr Roopnaraine's suggestion that the polling date could be shifted to later than September 12, necessitating a recall of Parliament by way of a declaration of a state of emergency might be true.

"However, we must point out that, whether that were to happen or not, GECOM continues to be guided by the legal provisions associated with preparations for and the holding of elections," the statement said. The commission also said while Dr Roopnaraine and the WPA are interested in the quality of elections rather than when the polls are held (so that the losers would have no reasonable cause for complaint, thereby avoiding the threat of post-elections violence), it remains committed to bringing off elections in a free, fair and transparent manner within the confines of the governing laws.

On the broad question of the sanitisation of the 2001 list, GECOM pointed out that there were various aspects of verification and it outlined six steps. At the first, it noted that the records of persons appearing on the 2001 list were copied to the new database and a comparison was done to ensure that the data was copied intact. Secondly, transactions from the addendum to the 2001 list were also applied to the new database. Thirdly, the text data stored in GECOM's Multiple Identity Document Issuing System (MIDIS) was checked against the records held in the new database. This process produced a list of all three corrections made directly in the MIDIS that are not reflected in the 2001 OLE and this list was reviewed before the corrections were applied to the new database.

Next, GECOM noted that the list of deceased persons (as documented and forwarded to the commission by the General Register Office) was applied to the new database. Additionally, the identity and residency of all electors who notified the commission of a change of address were verified. Lastly, GECOM noted that it had commissioned the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) to conduct a project involving the scanning, capture, storing and cross-referencing of inked fingerprints of the persons listed on the 2001 list in order to detect possible multiple registrations. GECOM noted that a separate methodology was being developed for the elimination of duplicate and multiple registrations.

On the question of house-to-house visits to verify the list GECOM said, "it was never [our] duty (nor is it now) to verify the 2001 OLE by house-to-house verification." It add that there is no law which makes it obligatory for GECOM to conduct any verification of the 2001 OLE, adding that this was made "absolutely clear" in the independent legal opinion the commission solicited from Senior Counsel Ashton Chase.

In response to the claim that there might not have been objections to legitimate electors if a field verification of the 2001 list had been done, GECOM said that even if it had conducted a house to house exercise there is no law to provide for persons who are not found at their registered addresses to be removed from the list. "To do so would be an illegality for which GECOM could be taken before the courts for disenfranchising eligible electors," it noted. GECOM added that in any case, verification could not have prevented objections to legitimate electors.

The GECOM statement also made reference to a contention that elections-related problems were not building confidence in the electoral process. The commission said "unfounded" and "inaccurate" public statements by leaders in society do not and will not contribute to building public confidence in the electoral process. "In fact, such will contribute to undermining public confidence in the commission," it said. "Accordingly, we call upon all stakeholders, especially the leaders in our society, to support GECOM as we move along in preparation for, and the holding of, the upcoming elections... We believe that it is only this that would bring to realisation that 'the losers would have no reasonable cause for complaint, thereby avoiding the threat of post-elections violence," it added.

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