New civic group to consult citizens on electoral reform

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As Guyana continues its recovery from a five-month-long electoral process, a group of citizens have taken up the challenge to pilot electoral reforms with two major issues on the top of the agenda: acceptance of the elections results and representation of the people.

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) is looking to address flaws in the election processes through countrywide consultations.  The civic group was launched at the weekend and starting from January 2021, it will be rolling out a full year of consultations to get suggestions from society on the areas which need to be remedied.

“Regardless of who wins and who loses, we’ve had a constant challenge. Losing an election shouldn’t mean losing everything and winning an election shouldn’t mean winning everything and the challenge of elections results remain an issue. Whether it is how we add them altogether or how we get the parties to live with the results of those elections,” said Coordinator of ERG, Lawrence Lachmansingh, who is also a governance and conflict prevention practitioner by profession.

During an interview with the News Room, Lachmansingh pointed out the quality of representation provided by Parliamentarians and the Regional Democratic Councils needs to be examined.

“These are fundamental issues in an electoral system as to; what do those representatives do? How are they held accountable by the people? How do they serve the needs of the country?”

However, Lachmansingh was keen to point out that the group will be relying on the response of citizens in order to make its final submissions.

Another Coordinator of the group, Kerry Ann Cort-Kansinally told the News Room that the suggestions will be compiled and then used to advocate for the required changes.

“Our approach is to engage citizens generally and come up with the consensus and then move to advocacy,” Cort- Kansinally said.

At this point, the political parties will be engaged.

“We want the citizens to be able to drive the process and being able to establish that national ownership of the reforms,” she added.

The civic group will also be reaching out to the diaspora for suggestions.  The other members of the ERG are economist Desmond Thomas, who wrote a book titled ‘Electoral System Reform for a Diverse Nation, The Case of Guyana’;  former Head of Physical Sciences at the University of Guyana, Alfred Bhulai; retired professor Rory Fraser; sustainable development and natural resources management practitioner, René Edwards; lecturer at the University of Guyana in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Heetasmin Singh; and Master programme Science in Environmental Management student, Devta Ramroop who are all volunteering their services.

There are 30 extended group members. They are hoping to have a final report in 2022 and start the actual reform process.  Following the March 2020 elections, several political parties have called for electoral reforms.

The Carter Center, which has observed all of Guyana’s elections since March 2020, said Guyana’s winner-takes-all system is in need of reform as it encouraged all parties to commit to national reconciliation and to complete key constitutional reforms in the near future.

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