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Guyana general elections hang in the balance as regional vote count ruled ‘invalid’

Screenshot of a portion of the Election Return from Guyana's Region 4, available on the Guyana Elections Commission's website.

After the polls closed in Guyana's general election, which took place on March 2, 2020, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) began to tally the votes from each of the country's 10 regions. However, in Region 4 — a stronghold of the ruling governing coalition, A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change( APNU+AFC) — the results were contentious. Guyana's High Court has now declared them null and void.

First, inconsistencies with a spreadsheet arose — by law, results must be verified according to the official Statements of Poll. Then, a data entry clerk was found with an unauthorised laptop and flash drive. This prompted the government's strongest challenger — the opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP) — to apply for a court injunction blocking Clairmont Mingo, the Region 4 returning officer, from declaring results until they could be properly verified.

On March 8, Guyana's Acting Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire, said that the court did have jurisdiction to hear the Region 4 verification suit. She heard arguments on March 10, and by March 11, ruled that the results indicated for Region 4 were “unlawful” as they did not fall in line with the requirements laid out in Section 84 of Guyana's Representation of the People Act, which refers to the counting of votes polled.

Justice George-Wiltshire's nullification of Region 4's declaration, coupled with her order for GECOM to conform with the law, means that the final results of the country's general elections hang in the balance until the recount is properly conducted.

Prior to Region 4's initial declaration, the PPP had been in the lead by more than 50,000 votes.

On March 11, President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo jointly met with a contingent of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders, and where they committed to transparency and agreed to uphold the law.

Today, March 13, marks the recommencement of the Region 4 verification process, after there were objections to having the contents of Returning Officer Mingo's disputatious spreadsheet included. GECOM will therefore conduct a fresh vote count, though the approach it will use is still unclear.

The process aims to clarify which political party will assume leadership of the country as it stands at the threshold of an economic uptick. Guyana has been poised for massive growth ever since its recent discovery of oil and gas reserves, which have the potential, according to The Economist, to increase per person income in the country by a staggering 380 percent.

Update: March 13, 2020 — Just after publication of this post, news broke that the Organization of American States‘ (OAS) observer mission had pulled out of Guyana after issuing a statement which noted, “The process being conducted by the Returning Officer for Region 4 to ascertain the results of the national and regional elections held on March 2 does not meet the required standard of fairness and transparency.”

Envoys of the Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States also issued a joint release which warned that the country would be isolated by the international community if it did not adhere to proper process. Around 6 p.m. Guyana time, a joint statement was put out by the Commonwealth, the European Union, and the highly regarded Carter Center, which said the international election observation missions in Guyana are “deeply concerned about the continued lack of transparency in the ascertainment of results for Region 4.” The release also reasserted the Chief Justice's instructions that Statements of Poll are to be the benchmark that guides the tabulation process: “Unless and until this is done in Region 4, the election results cannot be considered credible.”

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