Electoral anti-climax in Guyana

Armed soldiers stationed in Sophia, where residents staged a mini-riot.

At least one community in Guyana has been affected by violence as the country awaits the official results of Monday’s general elections.

In Sophia, a depressed community in Georgetown, suspicious residents attacked and set afire the home and neighbouring residences of a known People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) supporter, and burned at least eight vehicles parked outside the residences.

A rumour had been spread among the community that illegal voting was being carried out at the location, and despite attempts by APNU-AFC activists to calm the residents, they proceeded on their path of destruction that went late into the night with police and soldiers battling to restore order.

However, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) hosted a midday media briefing today to disclose that first results will be announced at 6 p.m, demonstrating the painstaking exercise associated with vote-counting in the country’s electoral system.

Voting in the elections ended at 6 p.m yesterday, and the first disappointment came five hours later when it was announced that preliminary results were unable to be released as promised, because transportation of ballot boxes to its office in the capital, Georgetown, for verification was halted due to security concerns.

Movement of those boxes from across Guyana’s 83,000 square miles to the capital resumed this morning and there was anticipation that at least some results would have been ready for release when GEOCOM called a media briefing for 11 a.m.

But the Commission’s Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, quickly dashed those hopes.

“If everything works well, we will be giving you the results as soon as that ‘working well’ produces a verification,” he told the media, while adding that the Chief Elections Officer “will not make his announcement unless he ratifies what he has come to us with”.

Dr Surujbally revealed that just over 1,500 of the 2,299 ballot boxes had been received so far.

He promised that following the 6 p.m release of preliminary voting figures, another such declaration would be made at 11 p.m.

He went on to explain that unlike the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system that obtains in other Caribbean territories where a district makes up a constituency, in Guyana the entire country was seen as one constituency.

That means while winners of a parliamentary seat can be declared based on a fraction of the total national votes counted in a constituency in other CARICOM elections, declaration of a winner in Guyana can be safely made only when a substantial majority of the votes of the entire country is counted.

Compounding this is the fact that Guyana is subdivided into 10 regions, some in mountainous terrain hundreds of miles away from the capital. Those ballot boxes must be delivered to GECOM’s office for verification after counting at the local polling station.

Meanwhile the coalition party, A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change, this morning claimed victory, stating “our internal monitoring has indicated that we have won these elections, and the people of Guyana have spoken definitively for change”.

The incumbent People’s Progressive Party/Civic contended that it has received several reports of multiple voting and persons being disenfranchised.

“The majority of GECOM officials acted professionally but we have had incidents in various places and we want these investigated”, said former president and PPP/C candidate Bharrat Jagdeo.

An unofficial count today had the APNU-AFC ahead with 29, 489 votes to the incumbent PPP/C with 21,391.

Those numbers, based on ballots counted at polling stations (statements of poll) become insignificant when it is considered that some 569,942 names are on the list of electors.

Even as the counting progresses today, an early accurate forecast of results will be difficult because the total number of electors was derived from a 2006 list, and as GEOCOM officials explained, many of the persons named are either dead or have left the country.

The only overseas votes allowed in these elections are that of diplomatic staff.

As residents await results, one major disturbance in Georgetown has so far marred the post-voting atmosphere.


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