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(GUYANA CHRONICLE) — The Working People’s Alliance (WPA), a partner in the coalition government, has joined the call for house-to-house registration to be conducted before the next General and Regional Elections.
According to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), national registration would take some nine months.
On Saturday, WPA Chairperson Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, while noting that it is GECOM’s responsibility to facilitate a free and fair election, said the commission should be able to make a determination on the issue.
“GECOM, as an independent agency, should have the ability to determine whether or not it is an imminent exercise; if it is an exercise that is necessary and should happen before we have the elections,” Sarabo-Halley said.
She added: “Based on the discussions that are happening with the commissioners at GECOM, they recognise that it should happen even though the PPP commissioners are of the view that ‘we can go to elections whoever is on or off, it doesn’t matter. We just go to elections right now because that is what the Constitution says’, as far as they are concerned.”
Sarabo-Halley said it is WPA’s position that failure to conduct house-to-house registration would disenfranchise persons who would have reached the age of 18 but have not been included in the National Register of Registrants, and would therefore be omitted from the Official List of Electors.
“So, if it is we are not dealing with disenfranchising people, then house-to-house registration is a must,” she said.
On that tone, she said it is not only about removing dead and absent registrants from the Official List of Electors (OLE) but ensuring that every eligible citizen gets the opportunity to be placed on the OLE.
IN FULL AGREEMENT
“We at the WPA are in agreement with the demands for house-to-house registrations to be done before elections. It is a right of the young people who would have just turned 18 and eligible to vote to get on that list. Every person who is eligible to vote; they need to have that option. Whether or not they choose to vote is also their right, but they have a right to be on that list so that they can make a choice once elections come. There is the other aspect of it, of getting persons who are not supposed to be on the list off that list, and house-to-house registrations will also deal with that.” Sarabo-Halley said.
WPA made its position on the issue known one day after GECOM indicated that an estimated nine months would be needed to conduct the national registration.
Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield had explained that should the current Official List of Electors expire on April 30 without an election being held, there will be a need for a new Official List of Electors. Lowenfield said given the current circumstances, the secretariat has advised the commission that a new list can be generated through a mechanism of a Claims and Objection exercise.
“The duration of that exercise will be determined by the commission, so should the list expire, the commission will advise that the claims and objection be done where the old list will be used as the preliminary list and as we move towards a new Official List of Electors,” Lowenfield explained on Friday while fielding questions from reporters during a news conference.
He said while house-to-house registration could be conducted for the purpose of the pending elections which was triggered by a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly, the secretariat has recommended that Claims and Objection exercise be done in the interim.
“The secretariat recommended to the Commission that we do a Claims and Objection for the duration of 28 days, that is, registration for 28 days period with a seven days objection period,” he explained.
The chief elections officer further explained that if the current OLE is used, persons included on the National Register of Registrants (NRR) who were not 18 by November 1, 2018, would not be listed to vote. However, he noted that if a new list is generated, it would see the inclusion of persons who recently turned 18 or turned 18 during the compilation of the list.
Lowenfield made it clear, however, that it is the commission which will decide whether house-to-house registration is conducted or whether the Claims and Objection exercise be conducted to generate a new list.
The A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) are also up in arms against any attempt to conduct elections without conducting house-to-house registration. National registration was last conducted in 2008, some 10 years ago.
Public Security Minister and Chairman of the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, who joined picketers on Thursday, said he believes that national registration is a necessary process that guarantees all eligible Guyanese their right to vote. According to Ramjattan, if the old List of Electors is used for the upcoming elections, thousands of young people who have not registered but are eligible to vote will be disenfranchised.
Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan is also of the belief that the old List of Electors is unacceptable. “We cannot have an acceptable list for the conduct and the holding of general and regional elections in the absence of house-to-house registration,” Minister Bulkan said.
“The current Official List of Electors, my understanding, is in the vicinity of about 600,000 names in a population of approximately 750,000. The list is bloated! We cannot have an acceptable election with the current list being used as the basis,” the communities minister said while maintaining that house-to-house registration is a prerequisite.
Minister Bulkan is of the opinion that facilitation of “Claims and Objection” alone would not be sufficient to cleanse the list of dead people. However, he like Ramjattan, accepted that the final decision on the conduct of national registration lies with the elections body.