By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
The Guyana election outcome is now in the hands of the chair of the election commission (Gecom). The recount is coming to an end.
The chair had stated since the recount began on May 6 that she would use its numbers to declare the outcome since the certification of the vote of March 13 was a farce. But her behavior over the last week has raised concerns. In an ongoing survey conducted by this writer, voters in Guyana say the numbers (tabulations) from the vote recount must be used for a declaration of the outcome of the elections regardless of which party wins in order to preserve democratic gains made since 1992.
Almost every voter said the purpose of the agreed upon recount was to ascertain the certification of the original count, especially the widely publicized fraudulent count of Mingo in Region 4. Almost everyone supported the recount. They feel that since the recount has been conducted amidst an agreement between the government and opposition, supervised by Gecom and under ‘scrutiny’ of a three members Caricom team, it must supplant the count. The recount has been very transparent witnessed by domestic and international observers including the OAS and EU and thus takes the place of the count that has now been confirmed as a fraud. It is generally felt that those who partook in that fraud must be prosecuted to deter it happening again.
As per discussions I had with voters and from views obtained by my poll interviewers, the SOP ballot certification of fraud of March 4 of Region 4 shocked the conscience of Guyanese from all political persuasions and supporters of all parties. Mingo attempted to shamelessly impose fraud on the nation but he was caught and exposed. The certification was described by observers and by voters as bizarre, surreal, and patently illegitimate. Guyanese couldn’t imagine the likes of it happening in Guyana again given the history of electoral fraud (1996 to 1992) in Guyana. They never thought that electoral fraud would be attempted in public view in the presence of international diplomats and observers. It required extraordinary courage to rig a count in public view.
Elections were rigged behind the scenes, out of public view, between 1966 and 1992 during the period of the dictatorship. But in this modern day, rigging is almost impossible on camera, and thus, it was exposed. There was a relief when the fraud was nullified in the high court that ordered a new certification of ballots for region 4. But when the court was defied and the fraud was repeated for certification of Region 4 SOPS, Guyanese were left wondering about the viability of the country’s democratic system. Gecom staff was defying the court and held in contempt. Guyanese expressed disappointment with the chair who saw her likeability numbers dived but picked up in recent days.
As voters recently remarked, much has changed since the days of authoritarian and one party rule that ended in October 1992, in which hordes of reporters and observers jammed the counting centers of Gecom after March 2nd to get a first hand eyewitness account of the counts of ballots. Given Guyana’s history of disenfranchising voters, there is unanimous agreement among supporters of all political parties that legacy must not be repeated in 2020. They all agree that if not stopped now, Mingo kind of fraud would happen again and again.
Voters also say that political parties must begin to accept that legitimate governance must come from the will of voters, not from electoral fraud. Political parties can no longer depend on manipulation of electoral rolls, impersonating or ‘impostering’ voters, stuffing ballot boxes at the closure of voting time, violence and threats, fraudulent certification of SOPs, and Gecom staff to create a victory for them. They must compete for and earn votes and show the nation they stand on the side of democracy.
Queried on whether the recount should replace the count, 77% sad yes. But voters recognize that the outcome of the election and democracy now depends on one vote in a politically divided Gecom – that of Chair Claudette Singh. She has seen her approval numbers soared in recent weeks. Would she jeopardize it?
Voters feel that if she does not support the recount, the country would face international sanctions. Voters want her to support democracy to allow the country to remain an accepted member of the family of democratic nations. Her vote would also end the stalemate and allow the country to move forward.
Voters put a lot of faith and confidence in the chair. She will decide whether Guyana remains a democracy or return to the path of bullyism and authoritarianism. Voters feel she will stand with them and use the recount to declare the outcome of the elections.