The Alliance For Change (AFC) said it is suspicious about the proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) which were published by the PPP Government. To this end, the over a decade-old political party asserted that it does not support the changes to the law, and is, therefore, calling on the Government to restart the process.
Having deliberated on the recommended changes, the AFC said, “[We] have become even more non-supportive and suspicious of the purport and content of the amendments.” The party noted that the proposed amendments are outright “unilateral and stealthy”.
The AFC is of the firm view that the amendments “reveal a further removal from meaningful consultation and participation on serious matters such as electoral reform.” It pointed out that the consultation process is “biased” and “subjective” and has poisoned the amendments beyond acceptance.
“To have concluded the recently highly hailed Law Reform Commission from even taking a cursory examination at these proposed changes is existing an important independent advisorial institution from one of its core functions. To have excluded GECOM from even its attention being brought to them, the institution most immediate to the operations of elections, the actual stakeholder, is a huge false start,” the party said in a statement on Tuesday.
The party added, “The amendments to subdivide Election District 4 into four separate legislatively configured districts, rather than maintaining them as administratively arranged districts at the discretion of GECOM, is an evasion of the administrative power given by the Constitution to that body which superintending our elections. It is a transferring of that power to the Executive branch in accordance with the PPP’s whim and fancy. ”
The AFC noted that the amendments violate Guyana’s constitutional norms and conventions “just like the presiding of matters national by [Vice President] Bharrat Jagdeo who violates the conventions and norms of a Presidential two-term limit.”
The party said, too, that the alleged pretext of increased efficiency of getting results within the four separate sub-districts faster is hollow. “Apart from the expedition of getting results, the defect to be cured consequent upon what happened last elections is to make a cure of the firmness and validity of the process, the AFC noted.
The AFC, however, said that this does not seem to bother the authors behind the amendments and as such it treats this with grave suspicion. The AFC labelled the fines suggested as draconian. “The draconian penalties of $10,000,000 fine and 10 years to life imprisonment for certain new offences as well as old ones as wholly with the purpose to deter employment and drive fear in conducting the duties of elections officials.”
The party said, too, that human errors unknowingly can be made as has happened. Though having these corrected, it pointed out that an official can now suffer severe penalties and that there can also be a discriminatory application of who will be charged and prosecuted.
Considering this, the AFC made it clear that it does not see the amendments as a genuine, honest response to the problems which exist and ought to be cured but rather it sees them as a platform for PPP to take off in a full course of gerrymandering of District 4 to its advantage.
The party is, therefore, urging a restart of the process with all participants and stakeholders playing a role and having their say from a drafting stage to completion stage with the help from experts who should be hired by the Law Reform Commission or can be from international/regional centres.
Given the events that transpired during the country’s 2020 national elections, upon entering office, President Irfaan Ali assured that his Government will put measures in place to prevent attacks on Guyana’s electoral process. The proposed amendments to the RoPA are among them.
During an interview with the Department of Public Information (DPI), Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, warned that legislative change alone may not be enough to fend off attempts at electoral malfeasance. This, he noted, is in light of how some provisions were deliberately misrepresented during the 2020 elections.
He said, “Whatever weaknesses were in the law; they were exploited to their hilt. Wherever there was discretion, it was abused. Wherever there was latitude, interpretive latitude, it was vulgarised. Wherever there was an opportunity to bend the law, to the repulsive end, it was exploited.”