Debunking the HHV Claim
At the very outset, Guyanese need to place the issue of free and fair elections in Guyana in perspective. The PPP has a proud history of fighting for free and fair elections in Guyana. Since 1992, the PPP/C has fought for and been able to strengthen democracy and the environment for free and fair elections. The PNC has a shameful history when it comes to elections in Guyana. They were the architect of rigged elections in 1968, 1973, 1978, 1980 and 1985. It took a concerted effort by every group locally and through an international partnership, led by the PPP, to win free and fair elections in Guyana. The present PNC leader was a significant player in the rigging machinery of the PNC. Since 1992, the PNC has sought to derail the democratic process of transparent elections, refusing to accept results of internationally certified election in Guyana and placing severe barriers to elections preparations each time in 1997, 2001 and now in 2006.
The 2006 elections are due. The PNC, as they did in 1997 and 2001, again placed significant barriers in front of GECOM and the Government. I seek to address one issue in this paper. The PNC and some of its partners have demanded HHV of the 2001 OLE and have virtually derailed the constitutionally mandated 2006 elections by their unshakable resistance to proceeding with the 2006 PLE as the basis for the preparation of the 2006 OLE.
The PNC has threatened further derailment of the process unless their demands are met. They have, through their nominated commissioners, threatened GECOM’s work by the commissioners holding out the possibility of withdrawing their service from GECOM. The PNC itself has threatened to take to the streets and in Guyana, this has its own meaning, since every time the PNC proceeds on this pathway, there has been violence.
The PNC has presented their position as a reasonable one and one that is absolutely required to guarantee a transparent, legitimate list of electors. What is the real story?
Every Guyanese should be aware that the conduct of elections in Guyana is entirely in the remit of GECOM. It was all the political parties and civic society that agreed to the provisions in Article 161, 161A and 162 of Guyana’s reformed constitution that established an independent election body called GECOM to be entirely responsible for the conduct of elections in Guyana. The Government facilitates the work of GECOM by presenting proposed laws for Parliament to consider and by providing GECOM with the necessary financial support to enable GECOM to carry out its mandate. The PPP/C has no more say than the PNC or any other political party in the decisions of GECOM. The PPP/C has had disagreements with GECOM and some of the actions of GECOM, particularly its secretariat, have caused the PPP/C grave concerns, but the PPP/C has always respected the independence of GECOM. Every political body should respect the independence of GECOM, bearing in the mind each of our right to advocate and criticize, but leaving GECOM to responsibly carry out its mandate.
On the issue of HHV, Guyanese should note that GECOM, indeed, has included some rigid and very expensive verification mechanisms in its procedures for including names on the 2006 PLE. It is an untruth for anyone to say that there is no verification exercise being carried out. The PNC has aggressively, and with quite sinister motives, promoted the untruth that there is no verification of the 2006 PLE. Besides the extensive verification exercise of every new transaction in the recent 2005/2006 CR exercise, the 2001 list has been sanitized by removal of the names of every dead person and by subjecting the entire data base to a biometric exercise. In addition, there is the Claims and Objections period for political parties to do their own work. It should also be noted that GECOM has decided that the photograph of every person on the list would appear with the new OLE.
The fact is that the 2006 PLE is made up of 486,736 verified names, each with a photo-identity and with biometric data, which came from two distinct sources:
- The CR process that was completed on March 19 th led to the inclusion of 64,282 persons on the 2006 PLE. This constitutes 13.21% of the 2006 PLE. Every name on the 2006 PLE that resulted from the recently concluded CR was verified by HHV in which GECOM officials, accompanied by scrutineers from various political parties, including the PPP/C and the PNC/R. GECOM was unable to verify another 464 persons who also completed transactions during the recently concluded CR. These persons have not been included in the 2006 PLE and GECOM has provided each political party and has published the list of unverified transactions. These persons could still appear in the OLE later if they were to complete the verification exercise.
- GECOM extracted 422,454 names from the 2001 OLE and included these names on the 2006 PLE. The 2001 OLE contained 440,185 names, but GECOM first eliminated those persons (17,717) who had died since the last OLE was published before transporting the names to the new 2006 PLE. Thus, the PNC’s claim that the list contained names of people who died after the 2001 elections is entirely false and is a wicked fabrication for the purpose of misleading the public. The 2001 OLE contained names of persons, the existence of whom was unequivocally established in 2001. There were no ghosts, no fictitious person on that list. Giving into demands by the PNC, GECOM mandated that every voter had to show up in 2001 to take his or her photograph. Thus, the 2001 OLE contained only names of persons who physically showed up to take their photographs. All of the 440,185 names on the 2001 OLE also were subjected to an extensive Claims and Objection Period, during which the PNC lodged block objections to more than 30,000 names, all of which successfully overcame the objection by the PNC. The PNC then claimed that persons had applied under different names for registration in the 2001 OLE. This was never demonstrated. The police were called in to investigate about 30 names and the police established that none of these were examples of anyone attempting to register twice. In order to address this recurring claim by the PNC, GECOM, at great expense, contracted EOJ to evaluate the finger print records to show if there were actually duplicates. This biometric exercise is actually one of the demands made by the PNC as a verification exercise. At one time, Guyanese will remember that the PNC insisted that nothing less than a biometric exercise would suffice. Having been placated with an essentially very expensive placating gesture from GECOM and from the Government, the PNC has now returned to the issue of HHV.
Essentially, the PNC has conceded the issue of verification of the new names on the list. Now, they have held on to their demands for verification of names that came from the 2001 list. In more recent times, they claimed to have reduced the demand if the PPP/C were to agree to HHV in selected Regions, mainly in the Regions where the PPP/C is considered to be strong. These Regions include Regions 6,5,4 and 3. It is clear from the above, however, that the PNC’s demand is for an expensive and time-consuming re-verification exercise, intended to disenfranchise people in areas they perceive to be PPP/C strongholds.
The photographic exercise of 2001 is evidence of the existence of these persons, one of the purposes of the HHV. The biometric exercise is an effort to once and for all debunk the claim of duplicate registration. Removal of names of the dead ensures that the list is sanitized of those who are no longer alive.
So what is it that the PNC really wants? Essentially, the PNC wants to remove the names of those persons who might no longer be living at an address that they listed in 2001. Is this a reason to remove someone from the list? This is a question that we must answer at some point. For now the fact is that there is no residency requirement for a Guyanese to vote. Once I am a registered person, once I have fulfilled all the requirements to go on a voters roll, I cannot be then expected to remain at that location in order to fulfill requirements to vote. I have freedom of movement and, unless, the country decide to start a new registration process I cannot be required to be at a certain address. Once I present myself to vote, after meeting all pre-requisites during a registration period, removal from the list because I cannot be found at a particular address is disenfranchising me from voting.
Guyanese enjoy a dual citizenship status. If a Guyanese of 18 years old who has been registered in person during a registration exercise with all the proper documents presents himself or herself to vote, no one can deny that person the vote. Imagine that a person who registered in 2001 and who might not have been here during an exercise when GECOM might have visited him or her at a particular address finds his or her name removed from the list when he or she shows up and decide that his or her right to vote has been taken away from him or her.
The fact is that Guyana does not have a requirement for a citizen to be living or residing at a particular address for a given period of time in order to vote. This is a residency requirement that exists for a certain class. The constitution is clear on this issue. For example, a commonwealth citizen is entitled to vote in Guyana’s election. First they must register to vote. But they will need to demonstrate that they were continuously living here in Guyana for a minimum period of one year. This is a residency requirement. But no where in Guyana’s law is it stated that a Guyanese citizen must demonstrate continuous residency at a particular Guyana address in order to vote. It is required that during any new registration process that a person is resident at a Guyanese address. This is usually verified by GECOM, as was done for every new registrant. It is not required during such registration exercises for GECOM to determine how long the Guyanese citizen has resided at that address. Once registered the Guyanese citizen can travel in and out of the country at will and need not satisfy a certain period of residency to qualify to vote.
Residency requirement is altogether another issue. No one has yet come out and demand that we should have a residency requirement for voting. That will raise another debate and if we accept such a requirement, we will have to determine the length of residency that someone must verify. But this cannot be for this election. Thus, the conundrum – what if during a HHV we discover that someone at that time was abroad?
Should be assume, therefore, that the person has no intention of being here at the time of elections? Should we consult with the person if he or she has intention of being here during election time? There are many known PNC leaders who might even be on their candidate list who are now not living in Guyana. Take Faith Harding as an example. She lives abroad. Her name is on the 2006 list because she was here in 2001, even though temporarily, during the photographic exercise. Should her name be expunged from the list? Is she going to come back to vote?
Every Guyanese citizen, regardless of what address they presently are at, has a constitutional right to vote in Guyana if they were here during a registration exercise and if they present themselves in person on Election Day.
The truth, then is that the real issue is to ensure a voters roll that does not take away the franchise from any Guyanese voter and that every voter is guaranteed only a single vote.
The voters roll is very important and since 1992 enormous efforts have gone into ensuring that every eligible Guyanese is able to place his or name on the list. But equally important are the mechanisms in place to ensure the free exercise of a citizen’s right to vote once on Election Day.
The PNC’s claim that keeping names of those who might have moved on the list would be a temptation or is a mechanism for the PPP/C to have its own supporters voting on multiple occasions can only be seen as a charade to prevent elections. First, the PNC is demonstrating knowledge of its own ghost. They have the audacity and the experience to do so since they routinely practiced this ugly activity in the past. The PPP/C has never even considered such activities and simply never has shown any propensity for such activities.
But it is exactly in the area of polling day measures to ensure one voter one vote where we ought to be spending time and investing resources. The PNC claim for example that when the PNC scrutineer at the polling station wants to have a break to go to the bathroom, the PPP/C scrutineer or someone else would use the opportunity to vote for someone who is on the list but who is not present in Guyana is ludicrous. First, what happens when the PPP/C scrutineer has to take a break? Second, would all the other scrutineers and GECOM officials also leave the room with the PNC representative, with only the PPP/C representative there? Would this also mean that every other person in the area is in collaboration with the PPP/C? How would the PPP/C representative know which name on the list he or she could vote for? And what about the ink on the finger? Moreover, what about the photograph of every voter on the list?
The fact is this is another red herring thrown up by the PNC as an excuse for the sinister plans they have for the 2006 elections. Each election period in Guyana is characterized by violence. Every citizen is aware of the origin of the threats and the violence in Guyanese elections. Clearly, the PNC has established its excuse. The signs are ominous. We must unite in our efforts to ensure that the sinister motives of the PNC are not played out.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
May 14, 2006