GEORGETOWN, Guyana, February 25, 2020 (CMC) – The Private Sector Commission (PSC) says there’s “the very real possibility that a significant number of voters may be disenfranchised”, as a result of the changes made by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to a substantial number of polling places, in a wide number of rural locations, for the March 2 election.
“The Private Sector Commission wishes to point out that, while GECOM is bound, in law, to observe the statutory process, requiring the Chief Election Officer to act within the authority of the Commission, he appears to have acted, unilaterally and on his own, by changing the location of polling places, between January and February, and without informing the contesting political parties,” the PSC said, in a statement.
Last weekend, the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) said that it would “continue in its relentless struggle to reverse the discriminatory, unfair and inequitable allocation of polling places”.
The opposition party said that it wanted to ensure that “the Guyanese electorate, right across the country, but more particularly, on the East Coast Demerara, are afforded the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote on March 2, in a fair, convenient and hassle-free environment”.
“We will continue to engage GECOM, the international community and the international observer teams in Guyana, until this matter is satisfactorily addressed,” it said, threatening to “galvanize the tens of thousands of electors, who are affected…in protest actions, against GECOM”.
Last Friday, as she observed voting by members of the disciplined forces, GECOM Chair, retired Justice Claudette Singh, responded to accusations that GECOM was engaging in voter-suppression by moving polling places out of private residences.
She said 91 private residences, across Guyana, are still being used as polling places, and the reduction in the use of private residences is in response to lobbying from the major political parties.
As a result, 95 percent of polling stations have been moved to public buildings, such as schools, community centres and churches. Schools will be closed on March 2 to facilitate the vote.
Singh said GECOM is taking all necessary steps to ensure free and fair elections here.
In the statement, the PSC, which has observer status for the elections, said it is “dismayed at the claim, reported in the media, to have been made by the Chairman of GECOM, that the decision to change the location of these polling places is in response to a recommendation, made by the Carter Center, that private residences, should not be used as polling places.
“The PSC has checked and is informed that the Carter Center, in its final report, following the 2015 elections, made no such recommendation, and we call upon the Carter Center to, immediately, publicly, make the Center’s position clear on this matter,” it said.
The PSC said “in any event, GECOM has, in fact, identified a number of private residences for polling places and mainly in the urban area of Georgetown.
“The Private Sector Commission is aware that the Chief Elections Officer had presented to the Commission, in January, a document assigning polling places, which was acceptable to the contesting, who are political parties represented on the Commission.
“Given the factor of time involved, we urge that GECOM, at the very minimum, promptly reverse the last-minute and abrupt changes made, in February, to the assignment of polling places, to those originally agreed upon in January,” it added.