GUYANA ELECTIONS: No preliminary results released as expected

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, August 29, 2006 – The flow of election results last night has been halted until this morning when the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) will say why. This comes against the background as just under a half of registered voters stayed away from the polls.

Under normal circumstances, there should have been a clear idea as to who was leading in the polls last night though the official announcement would be made tomorrow but results were withheld.

Last night the results of Region 3 were available but not released. Voting among the 67 000 registered voters in this area was particularly low while in the East Bank Demerara River, the official news agency GINA reported that President Bharrat Jagdeo went out to encourage people to go out and vote.

In preparation for broadcasting the results from the 1,999 polling stations across the country, GECOM made provision for all television stations in the Greater Georgetown Area to broadcast the results transmitted via their Results Display Screen at headquarters. This did not materialise and an explanation is expected in a news conference this morning.

As the votes are tallied, the results are made available however the legal procedure is for all ballot boxes to be transported to GECOM’s Georgetown headquarters, the votes rechecked and an official announcement made.

Voter turnout was particularly low – a projected 55 per cent compared to 87 per cent in 2001. That is about 270,000 people yesterday compared to 397,000 five years earlier and this has political parties very worried.

Complaints flowed again last night from the Alliance for Change (AFC) which charged that presiding officers were usurping the authority of the Chairman of GECOM by barring polling agents from smaller political parties, as well as observers, from the polling stations. AFC said that the officers were demand a “letter of appointment” which were being held by all the agents of the ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) and People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR).

GECOM’s Chairman, Dr Steve Surujball said there were no legal provisions for letters of appointment and he personally spoke with the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Police directing that agents with GEOCOM-issued identification cards be allowed in the station.

“GECOM’s Presiding Officers have been informed that once the Party Agent has his/her id Card he/she cannot be denied access to the Polling Station,” said Dr Surujball who added that at the stations in question the presiding officers denied that the AFC agents were being barred.

“It should be pointed out that if one Party’s Agent is not in the Polling Station, there are other Party Agents (theoretically up to nine), GECOM Polling Day Clerks, a Presiding Officer a Deputy Presiding Officer and Local and Foreign Observers in that Polling Station. The defacto situation is that Party Agents are there to see that nothing untoward takes place at the Polling Stations. In fact, the APC does not have Polling Agents in all Polling Stations,” he told reporters.

The AFC, which complained yesterday morning of being barred from witnessing the vote, last night remained irate that its agents were not being allowed to observe the count.