Let Prisoners Vote, Guyana Advised

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Thursday May 18, 2017 – Two years after the last general election in Guyana, government is being told that when the next poll comes around, prisoners should be allowed the opportunity to cast their ballots.

That recommendation was among several made by The Carter Center in a report released yesterday on the May 11, 2015 elections.

The Carter Center election observation mission was launched almost a month ahead of the vote – on April 8 – following an invitation from the Office of the President, and was led by former United States President Jimmy Carter. Observers were deployed throughout the country in advance of Election Day, on the day itself, and also stayed on to observe the post-election environment.

In its report, the center made several recommendations to the Government, the Parliament, and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

It was in its suggestions to GECOM that it called for the rights of prisoners to vote to be respected, and also highlighted the slow pace of delivery of justice.

“Guyana is obligated to ensure that the right of universal suffrage is fully realized. Guyana should seek to facilitate voting by prisoners, particularly those held in remand who have not yet been convicted of a crime,” it stated. “In advance of future elections, procedural measures should be adopted to avoid unreasonable disenfranchisement of eligible citizens.”

The Carter Center noted that the prison population on Election Day was over 1,700 people – one-third of whom were on remand awaiting trial – but not one of them got a say in who should be handed the reins of government.

“Universal suffrage was not respected in the case of voters in detention on Election Day. While there is no legal disqualification from voting for those in detention, no arrangements were made to register detained people nor to allow them to vote, thereby denying their franchise rights,” the report stated.

“The right to a speedy trial has not been respected in Guyana, and in the past there have been cases of prisoners who remained on remand for up to 10 years awaiting trial. While the period today is probably closer to five years on remand, this still represents an exceptionally lengthy period during which to be deprived of the exercise of political rights.”

In the report, the Carter Center reiterated its call for fundamental constitutional reform to reduce the problems with the current winner-take-all system.

Among the other recommendations were: a re-evaluation of the electoral system to increase the accountability of politicians to the electors and to equalize representation of women in parliament; allowing individuals to stand for election to the presidency and consider adopting a ranked-choice voting system to give greater incentive for candidates to appeal to more than their base voters; ensuring geographic seats are more equitably distributed among electors; clarifying the law and procedures for recounts; consolidating electoral laws to make the rules of the game more easily accessible; and strengthening the professionalism and independence of GECOM by closely evaluating the structure, recruitment, and training of GECOM staff and commissioners.

The 2015 mission – which followed missions in 1992, 2001 and 2006 – marked The Carter Center’s 100th election observation mission in that country. It has now observed 103 elections in 39 countries.

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