‘Desperately-needed’ amendments to main electoral law approved by National Assembly

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Just after midnight Tuesday, the government was able to pass the amendments to Representation of the People’s Act (RoPA), Guyana’s main elections law- a move Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Lenox Shuman believes was “desperately-needed”.

The 68-page Bill comprising the amendments was presented by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall SC.

According to him, the amendments were wide-ranging and addressed gaps and/or inconsistencies in the existing law.

Importantly, though, he noted that many of the amendments were crafted in direct response to “Clairmont Mingo’s shenaniganisms” at the March 2020 General and Regional elections.

It was been widely stated that the need to reform the legislation arose after the High Court had found that Clairmont Mingo, the Returning Officer who controlled the March 02, 2020 election process in Region Four, had breached the law when he failed to follow the lawful procedure to arrive at the correct vote count in the region.

Mingo’s calculations, which were later presented by the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for declaration, would have allowed clear fraud and provided for the installation for a government that had not won the elections.

Even after a national recount had clearly shown the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had won the elections, the Chief Elections Officer presented Mingo’s botched fingers until a Court of Appeal decision forced him to present the figures from the recount. This allowed for the PPP government to be sworn in after a five-month delay.

Now, Nandall believes that the amendments eliminate any officer’s ability to violate the integrity of Guyana’s electoral system.

“This is a good piece of lawmaking which every sensible Guyanese should throw their feet behind,” he said.

But what are the changes introduced?

Section (6) of the Act was amended to impose that every village or locality has an adequate number of polling places to accommodate the electors. Where public places are not available, GECOM’s CEO can rent a private space not associated with any political party.

Further, the CEO is now mandated to publish the list of all polling stations before the day of elections.

A new section (6)(A) provides for the division of three polling districts into subdistricts, which, Nandlall says, should make the tabulation process more efficient and less prone to sabotage.

Districts Three, Four and Six will be subdivided.

Region Three will be divided into the Essequibo Islands and River, St. Lawrence to Cornelia Ida, and the Hague to Arabio Creek sub-districts; Region Four will be separated into four units, namely East Bank Demerara, North Georgetown, South Georgetown, and East Coast; and, Region Six will be diverged into three polling sub-districts: East Bank Berbice to Canje, Upper Corentyne and Lower Corentyne.

It is now required that Statements of poll (SOPs), among other certified forms, be distributed to the CEO and the Chairman of the Commission. The Returning Officer is also expected to post an electronic copy of the SOPs on the Commission’s website to be publicly viewed.

Strict fines and penalties are attached for breach of these principles, are also among the amendments.

Though members of the government and opposition agreed that electoral reform is necessary, the Parliamentarians clashed on whether the amendments should be approved on Tuesday or sent to a special select committee for further perusal.

Opposition Parliamentarians from the APNU+AFC coalition each called for the Bill to be sent to a select committee.

But it was the Deputy Speaker, who is an Opposition Parliamentarian representing the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), who emphatically said that the amendments should be passed.

Considering the grave concerns of the March 2020 elections, he said that these amendments were “desperately, desperately needed.”

And he said, “This Bill does exactly what it needs to to ensure that what transpired in 2020 never happens again.”

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