Mon | Nov 30, 2020

Vishnu Bisram | Guyana election agents’ charges not gov’t supported

Published:Friday | October 23, 2020 | 12:06 AMVishnu Bisram/Guest Columnist
People line up to vote during presidential elections in Georgetown, Guyana, on March 2.
People line up to vote during presidential elections in Georgetown, Guyana, on March 2.

T he Gleaner editorial of October 1 warned Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali “to tread with care the prosecution of election officials involved in attempted electoral fraud”. There are some lacunae in the editorial.

The government is not prosecuting the election-rigging accused. And it must be emphasised that those being prosecuted are known to be involved in attempts to disenfranchise voters between March 2 and August 2. That is a serious offence against a sacrosanct act of democracy, voting. Also, the accused riggers defied attempts by international observers and complaints from political parties to behave honourably and impartially in counting and tabulating votes. They cannot go unpunished. The law must run its course. They must be prosecuted to send a strong message against future would-be potential election riggers. Most important, the prosecution is not politically inclined and is not connected with the ruling party of President Ali.

It does not go unnoticed that your paper has not called on the opposition to condemn electoral fraud and for its failure to urge the elections commission (Gecom) to launch an investigation into attempted electoral fraud and bring the guilty to swift justice. The paper is also conspicuously silent on the recent spate of violence of supporters of the opposition, who were egged on by their leaders against supporters of the government.

I agree with your argument that Gecom should have launched an investigation into electoral fraud and let the law take its course. But it is precisely because Gecom leadership failed to act to hold the election riggers accountable and because succeeding governments (the preceding and current one) did not carry out a timely investigation that individuals in a private capacity filed charges against those who were publicly involved in elections fraud. These are private charges being prosecuted by private attorneys, not state prosecutors and government.

FACILITATED FRAUD

It was well established by local and international observers that the accused facilitated fraud; their names were mentioned in the media during the ordeal to get an accurate count of ballots, and because some of them were sanctioned by the US government. And they themselves admitted they were involved in the acts. The charges were not launched by the Ali administration or by anyone affiliated with the ruling party. The charges were filed by individuals who are affiliated with the minor parties, TNM, ANUG, among others, and guardians of democracy who had to keep vigil 24 hours a day over several weeks to prevent tampering. Thus, it is incorrect to criticise the president of Guyana or his party for the private charges. If anything, the ruling party and the president could be critiqued for not pursuing or expediting an inquiry into electoral fraud. Anyone involved in fraud must be prosecuted to send a very strong message to those who have intention to violate the will of the electorate.

There is no doubt there was fraud. Jamaica’s own distinguished former PM Bruce Golding testified that he had never seen such a transparent, glaring public effort to rig an election. CARICOM, OAS, Commonwealth, Carter Center results were declared not in consonance with those statements of polls. When an election agent, Mingo, called fraudulent results, the CEO, Lowenfield, who you defend, did not sanction him. Instead, he opted to use Mingo’s fraudulent results for ratification.

The Gleaner rightly contends that (the chair of) Gecom should have launched an investigation into allegations of fraud. Why the chair, Madame (Ret’d) Justice Claudette Singh has not launched an investigation two months after a declaration is inexplicable. One must not forget that the chair was held against her will, surrounded by armed guards, when the initial attempt was made to rig the election on March 4. She has not spoken on that issue or on efforts to intimidate and silence her.

Also, nepotism within Gecom prevents any impartial investigation of fraud. Many within the commission conspired to rig the election and were accused of being agents of APNU. In fact, Gecom was stacked with agents of APNU by chair David Patterson, who was determined by the CCJ to be illegally appointed by President Granger. The chair’s appointees, all considered as supporters of APNU, were not reversed, including in his appointing of a deputy CEO, Roxanne Myers. She was chosen to replace the acting DCEO Vishnu Persaud. Patterson claimed he interviewed Mr Persaud for the job and it was subsequently found he lied. He never interviewed Mr Persaud. He (Gecom) is ordered to compensate Mr Persaud $4m for wrongful damages.

INNOCENT TILL CONVICTED

Gecom cannot be expected to objectively, impartially, and judicially investigate themselves. Private individuals were right to file charges. Let the accused defend themselves against the charges and evidence from the accusers. The accused are innocent until convicted.

It should be noted that the CEO, Lowenfield, whose name your paper mentioned, gave six different election results, including one that contradicts the results certified by the Caricom High Level Team.

Guyana is the country in the world that has six different election results from the same election. All the opposition parties and observers had one result that corresponded with each other. But the CEO managed to produce six different outcomes. Should he not be held accountable?

I conducted opinion polls that predicted the outcome of the elections with accuracy. The outcome almost mirror the findings of the polls. Moreover, I was present at the counting centre and saw copies of polling statements counts that were signed by polling agents and posted outside of polling stations that were not the same declared by Gecom officials. Should these fraudsters not be held accountable?

It is not correct that the ruling APNU-led coalition was eking out a narrow victory before the recount. All the observers said the opposition PPP had won a convincing victory. The narrow victory you described came from the rigging process and that led to the recount. Contrary to what your editorial contends, the Supreme Court and the CCJ did say that Lowenfield abused his power; he acted outside of his authority. He cannot decide on what is a valid or invalid vote. Only the Supreme Court could make such a decision in an election petition. Lowenfield defied the courts to declare the results as per the recount. He defied the instruction of Gecom.

Dr Vishnu Bisram is director, NACTA Polling Institute.