EOM commends Guyana on high voter turnout

The Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) of the Organization of American States (OAS) has congratulated the citizens of the Guyana for their participation in the electoral process as reflected by the high voter turnout on Monday.

The OAS said on Tuesday that the EOM team of 22 observers from 13 countries was present from the opening of the polls up to the counting of the votes in all 10 regions of the country, visiting a total of 379 polling stations on Election Day.

The mission, led by Senator Lisa Shoman from Belize, will remain in place until the final results are tallied, and will make a public report once they are announced, the OAS said.

“The Mission recognizes the significant improvements made by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) since 2011 to plan and prepare for the 2015 electoral process, specifically in the areas of transparency, logistics and inclusiveness of political parties in the process,” the statement said.

“The Observation Mission highlights the extraordinary commitment of presiding officers, returning officers, poll clerks, party agents and security officials in the exercise of their duties and commends voters for their determination to fulfill their civic responsibility, despite facing long lines in some cases,” it added.

“The mission expresses its concern over the reported incidents of violence in some areas, which temporarily affected the planned progress of the tabulation exercise,” it continued.

With the purpose of strengthening the electoral system in Guyana, and based on the observations and information gathered by direct observations of the OAS team, as well as in meetings with a wide range of stakeholders, the EOM issued a number of recommendations.

It said while the process of transmitting results in Guyana contains safeguards to reinforce the accuracy of the electoral outcome, the manual nature of the process is “inherently time-consuming.”

Given the particular geographical and logistical challenges of Guyanese elections, the mission urged the GECOM to consider implementing a system to issue preliminary results for national elections.

“The use of technology might serve to defuse tension and avoid incidents of violence on election night,” the EOM said.

The mission said that members heard from a wide variety of stakeholders that access to state media was not provided to all political parties on an equal basis.

“We recommend that consideration be given to regulation that promotes equitable access to all contenders in the electoral process,” the EOM said. “At the same time, the Mission wishes to recognize the work of the Media Monitoring Unit in highlighting the disparity in coverage by media during the political campaign.”

The EOM lamented the tone of the political debate leading up to Election Day, urging all political parties to build a “constructive dialogue based on programmatic actions that benefit the Guyanese people and avoid aggressive personal disqualifications.”

The EOM said while Guyana benefits from a house-to-house voter verification exercise conducted in the presence of party scrutinizers, as well as from the pre-electoral claims and objections process, however, during both the preliminary mission and the days before the elections, the mission heard from a wide range of stakeholders concerns related to a 20 percent increase in the number of voters.

“The Mission observed the lack of a timely procedure for cleansing and updating the voter registry,” the statement said.

Regarding political financing, the EOM said it observed that while a legal framework already exists, “there is the clear need to revise and modernize aspects of the law which are obsolete and which allows violations and non-compliance with few sanctions.”

Additionally, in order to promote equity in the electoral process, the mission recommends the consideration of “some form of state funding for political parties.”

The mission said it observed the significant presence of women throughout the electoral process as poll workers, party agents and candidates, noting that Guyana is the only country in the Anglophone Caribbean with a gender quota, which requires that candidate lists be composed of at least 33 percent of women, on both the national “top-up and geographic levels.”

“The mission commends GECOM’s effective enforcement of this quota during the pre-electoral period,” the statement said. “As we await the final electoral results, the OAS/EOM calls on all political parties to respect that percentage established in the actual allocation of the seats.”

In order to avoid long lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots, the mission recommended the introduction of a standardized process that will allow the verification of at least one or two additional voters while one voter is casting his/her ballot.

Additionally, the mission urged consideration of special measures to facilitate the access of disabled people and the elderly to polling stations.

The mission reiterated to the political parties and citizens of Guyana that the only official source of election results is GECOM.

“The EOM / OAS urges all stakeholders to respect the will of the Guyanese people by waiting until the tabulation process has finished and the results are declared by GECOM after which the newly-elected authorities will be sworn in,” the statement said.