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Weekly Report - 18 June 2020 (WR-20-24)

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GUYANA: Opposition edges closer to power

Guyana’s electoral dispute is finally coming to a head. Three-and-a-half months after general elections were held on 2 March, and 34 days after a protracted recount process, the Chief Election Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), Keith Lowenfield, produced a report on 13 June claiming that the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had won - but not fairly and squarely. The PPP/C savaged Lowenfield’s report, and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) observer team subsequently issued a weighty report of its own for Gecom’s chairperson, Claudette Singh, concluding that it had detected nothing untoward and that the result should stand. Singh concurred. President David Granger of the ruling A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change (Apnu-AFC) coalition has previously said that he would accept Gecom’s final verdict but after such a long-running and acrimonious dispute doubt inevitably remains.

While providing a tabulation of the result and summarising the observation reports for Guyana’s 10 electoral districts for Gecom’s Singh, Lowenfield maintained that “anomalies and instances of voter impersonation [mean that] it cannot be ascertained that the results…meet the standard of fair and credible elections”. He alleged that 7.2% of the votes cast were impacted by anomalies, 39.2% by voter impersonation, 3.4% by both, and 5.7% by unreconciled ballot boxes. His comments echoed claims made by President Granger and the Apnu-AFC last week that there were “numerous reports of irregularities [that] demonstrate a pattern of manipulation of the electoral process”, amounting to some 84,000 “bogus” votes [WR-20-23].

Lowenfield’s interpolations incensed the PPP/C, which issued a statement accusing him of having “arrogated unto himself the role of an investigator, judge and executioner and made conclusive findings, in respect of the wild, reckless and baseless allegations made by Apnu-AFC”. It alleged that he had acted “ultra vires, in excess of and without authority, in violation of natural justice, in abrogation of the separation of powers doctrine, unlawfully, unconstitutionally…and worse yet, [he] has indicted his own elections”.

No sooner had Lowenfield appended his reservations to the election observation reports presented to Singh than the three-strong Caricom observer team sent her a 152-page report which stood in stark contrast to his conclusions. The Caricom team declared its “unshakeable belief that the people of Guyana expressed their will at the ballot box and…that the recount results are completely acceptable”. The report said that the observer team did not “witness anything which would render the recount, and by extension, the casting of the ballots…to have thwarted the will of the people” and that it “was indeed transparent”.

The Caricom report did stress that “there are obvious lessons to learn from this experience” that a future government should take on board “in the best interest of democratic governance”. The report acknowledged that the observer team had witnessed “instances of irregularities” but that many of these could be attributed to “either the incompetence of some of the Presiding Officers at the polling stations…and/or the failure to give adequate training by Gecom to its staff”. Singh echoed these comments on 16 June. But, stressing that Gecom did not have the legal authority “to examine and re-examine witnesses”, Singh instructed Lowenfield to present a final declaration of results certifying the PPP/C as the winner.

Border case

A public hearing into Guyana’s border dispute with Venezuela will go before the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICJ) on 30 June. “We are grateful for this opportunity which we have looked forward to for decades,” Guyana’s foreign minister, Carl Greenidge, said on 14 June. The ICJ will first decide whether it has jurisdiction in the case. The Guyanese government hopes it will then uphold the 1899 Arbitral Award, confirming Guyana’s sovereignty over the Essequibo, a resource-rich area of around 159,000km2, which represents around two-thirds of its national territory. “The court’s decision will promote stability and investor confidence in Guyana. It will lift once and for all this unwelcomed burden that we have been carrying as a nation for such a very long time,” Greenidge said.