After months of contradictory statements, the PPP/C government is still to make a cogent and believable case as to why long-awaited local government elections have not been called. Its failure will cement in the minds of many -including its supporters – that in its weakened state it is unwilling to risk a loss in key areas which could frame it as a lame duck at general elections. As we have said before in these columns the PPP/C government is putting its own fortunes ahead of the country’s interest.
It has now opened up a new front. Whereas it has unconvincingly argued that the electorate is not ready for local government elections it is of the view that the people are more ready for general elections even though there are few differences between the two systems and basic voter education would have taken care of any gaps in knowledge. While more in favour of general elections, that hasn’t stopped the ruling party and the government from embarking on a cynical campaign to undermine the credibility of the electoral system and to cast aspersions on it.
How else does one explain the weekly mutterings at the PPP/C press conference by General Secretary Rohee about a sudden inflation in the size of the list of persons eligible to vote and sundry non sequiturs such as 18 persons registered at one location in Georgetown and the name of the late former President Arthur Chung being on the list. In his other capacity as Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Rohee would be well aware that it is the General Register Office, which comes under his own ministry, which must initiate the process to have the register purged of those persons who have died. Since he has overall responsibility for this department he himself should be made to explain why the name is still on the list.
While the matter of Mr Chung’s name and others can be easily addressed, the weekly grousing by the PPP about preparations for elections, whether local or general, points to a broader strategy to target the administrative processes for political purposes in the short term or whenever polls are actually called. This dovetails well with the shocking assertions by no less than President Ramotar after the 2011 general elections that shenanigans at GECOM had resulted in the PPP/C being cheated of an outright majority. The groundwork is being laid by the PPP to build on this despite repeated denials by GECOM of the various allegations.
It is the quintessential role reversal. Between 1990 and 1992, the PNC put enormous pressure on the reformed elections commission over processes and credibility and continued with this behaviour at the 1997 and 2001 general elections. With less than a majority of the vote in the 2011 polls and sensing the risk of a further erosion whenever elections are called, the PPP/C is clearly keeping all of its options opened. One expects that GECOM and all of its commissioners, three of whom were nominated by the government, would robustly defend the electoral preparations considering the negative impact that deliberate misinformation can have on an apathetic electorate.
The public must not lose sight of the fact however that the sweeping electoral reforms agreed following the intervention of the Carter Center prior to the 1992 general elections have laid a solid foundation for credible elections which cannot be easily derailed. Counting at the place of poll, identification requirements, measures to prevent multiple voting, the cleaning up of the register of registrants and the presence of scrutineers through all parts of the process have helped to create and build the necessary confidence in the electoral system.
Nevertheless, the way things are shaping up, fresh general elections could end up being the most watched since 1992. Given the qualms that have thus far been raised by the ruling party and the government, both the administration and GECOM must do all in their power to ensure that the most transparent arrangements are in place and watched by as many credible observers as might be interested.
At the level of GECOM, one expects that as soon as is practicable, the Joint International Technical Assessor will be in place and the full and complete needs for the electoral machinery will be made known to both the government and the donor community so that there are no gaps. The information technology aspects of the electoral process are usually fraught with contention and one hopes that the relevant competencies are availed to GECOM.
One also expects that invitations to observe the elections will be approved for the Commonwealth, the EU, the OAS, Caricom and others. This will give greater assurance to the public and obviate any concerns over some of the niggling questions that have been raised recently.
Despite the pendency of the no confidence motion against it, the government still has the opportunity to call local government elections and fulfill the solemn promise it made to the electorate in 2011.