Proposed amendments to ROPA inadequate, unsatisfactory – Article 13

Early voting, mistrust, disturbances and arrests; features of E-Day

Proposed amendments to the Representation of the People’s Act are “inadequate and unsatisfactory” says Article 13, a Guyanese think tank and civil society group. In a statement on Saturday, the body said these amendments fail to address some of the more fundamental problems associated with elections, these including the lack of wider electoral reform, the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission and campaign financing to name a few.

“We are concerned too that if these proposals make their way into the law, they can have a chilling effect on the willingness of citizens to serve for a paltry sum as clerks on election day,” the body said in its statement.

The proposed amendments are part of a public document in which citizens are expected to review and submit their comments as part of public consultations. Several bodies are on the record calling for wider reform of the electoral system in keeping with last year’s elections issues and issues raised for decades.

Article 13 in its statement feels that any attempt at reform must begin with an analysis of “the problem” as it said that an “exercise of this nature must proceed from the recognition that a deficient apparatus will produce flawed results”.

The body said too that the proposed amendments fail to address the sore point of the List of Electors. “The question of who may and may not vote in elections is a problem which we can no longer avoid,” it said, “In this regard, the possibility of dual citizens Guyanese being allowed to participate as candidates in elections should be examined”.

Article 13 said that the proposed amendments do nothing to address what it described as the situation in which the Chief Elections Officer is also the Head of Registration – “a concentration of power and functions which is unacceptable,” Article 13 said.

Among the issues the body raised is the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission, an issue raised by several election observation missions, including the Carter Centre, which had proposed the Carter-Price model for the commission.

“This model which was intended as a temporary measure for the 1992 Elections has installed Commissioners claiming lifetime tenure and seemingly committed to doing everything but their constitutional duty,” Article 13 said, “This arrangement has to be changed by a constitutional amendment and replaced by independent Commissioners appointed by a Constitutional Commission for a limited period of no more than two elections cycle”.

It also called out the lack of addressing Campaign Financing through these proposed amendments.

“GECOM and the political parties continue to defy the ROPA on the grounds that the amount permitted is grossly inadequate,” Article 13 pointed out, “there is no proposal for increasing that limit or to prevent elections becoming hostage to foreign interests and private capital”.

It said too that the proposed amendments set nothing to deal with the abuse of state resources by the party in Government and “the shutting out of opposition parties from the state media”.

Article 13 wants the Government to immediately extend the period of consultation for the amendments and to engage in meaningful consultation with the people of the country.

The public has until December 17 to review and comment on the document.