By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
International observers literally apologized to me for inability to stop the bold faced rigging of the count of Guyana elections. They said they were helpless; they were observers not empowered to stop fraud but to see that fraud was not perpetrated. Because of bullyism, they could not stop the fraud. I interacted with observers from various international organizations that were invited to monitor the elections. I engaged several of them at polling places, hotels, press conferences, in the streets, over meals, and at Gecom counting center.
The observers could not believe that elements at Gecom would be so brazen to change the count of the ballots to declare the loser as the winner.
Although they were disappointed with the election count turned out, the k servers were dazzled with the beauty of Guyana and the warmth of Guyanese as hosts. They heaped accolades on the behavior of Guyanese during the elections and for their warm hospitality and kindness. They also were awe-struck by the charm and natural beauty of the lovely country. They told me that they were fascinated with the landscape of our country, its so many breathtaking sceneries, wonderful people, cuisine and lush greenery.
They envy our country’s stunning architecture, magnificent rivers, clean air, pristine physical attributes, gorgeous people, local Creolese language, spoken accent, among other remarkable features. They are impressed with how our varied religious groups get along and the extent of harmony displayed by the varied groups. (During the count of ballots, the results and the behavior of voters confirmed that the country is deeply divided along race, with the government disputing SOPs that show the opposition PPP won.) But the observers spoke ill of some of politicians (from the government side) and some staff (those who perpetrated the rigging) at Gecom who they describe as dishonest and unprincipled.
I happened to be present at Cara Lodge sipping tea with an observer when I overheard conversations among other observers assailing (using unkind language) the behavior of some Gecom staff, the Chair Claudette Singh, the three government election commissioners, and some security personnel. When they spotted me, some came over to apologize to me. One said, “Dr. Bisram, Guyanese are some of the nicest people I met in my experience observing elections elsewhere but I never experienced anything (referring to the fraud) like this. I feel sorry for your country and the people”. Others related similar experiences while apologizing to me and saying sorry for not being able to produce a credible election count. The observers accused the electoral commission of bias and fraud to overturn the verdict of the voters.
The presence of observers helped to build confidence in the electoral process. They were tasked with assessing the integrity of the overall conduct (including conducting of votes) of the election process as independent entities. The perceptions of the varied observer groups are important in the certification of the integrity of elections. So far, no group has praised Gecom for counting of votes; in fact, they condemned the behavior of the RO for Region 4 and some Commissioners as well as the Chair. The observers noted that the government was conspicuously silent about the malfeasance of Gecom, particularly those involved with the fraud.
The observers did not feel constrain to offer their views on the voting and tabulation process, which was the source of the impasse relating to the declaration of Region 4 and the overall results. The observers applauded the voting on elections day as free, fair and credible. But they told me on March 4 that efforts were afoot to steal the elections at the ballot counting consolidation stage. They described it as a bare-faced, incompetent attempt to rig the election in public view. They said they could not sanitize the fraud that was attempted on March 4th, 5th, and 13th. Several observers told me they were prepared to stay in Guyana as long as funded and necessary to ensure a transparent counting process. (Regrettably, the observers left Guyana because of the shenanigans at Gecom and judicial interventions).
No country’s elections count is as closely scrutinized as Guyana. Every observer knew the outcome of the elections on the morning of March 3; the political parties also knew the count. And the observers expected that there would an official declaration of the real results on March 4 right after the certification of the SOPs. Then all hell broke loose with the attempted fraud of Mingo to change the outcome. Then, observers began exposing to the world an array of counting anomalies. A number of detailed and disparate assessments of Gecom’s conduct post-elections are ongoing.
Allegations of fraud were made and condemned by representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Lima Group, the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), OAS, ACS, Caricom, Commonwealth, and diplomatic community.
Every observer mission issued a critical statement on the elections count, saying Gecom has not demonstrated that it supports a kind of vote counting that is accepted internationally in democratic cultures. Gecom has not yet established a counting process that shows it is serious about ending the count impasse soon. The international observer groups issued statements that they would remain vigilant and engaged in supporting the people’s call for an expedited, transparent count.
It is noted that Gecom has not treated the political parties equitably in terms of listening to their views and acting on them. Observers complained that the Chair and the CEO sided with the government commissioners on the questionable count and attempted declaration of the results. And it does not given confidence to voters that their votes would be accurately counted. Consequently, the fate of Guyana‘s thirty years old democracy is not certain.
The Guyana government’s international credibility as well as that of Gecom is in jeopardy. If both wish to resuscitate their image abroad, they must agree to an expedited recount of votes rather than a long drawn out court intervened process.