Last week’s headlines highlighted efforts by GECOM to speed up the reporting of election results by introducing electronic counting and compilation of votes for a limited area, presumably as a pilot project. The last general and regional elections were characterized be extensive delay in announcing election results in Guyana and there was an outcry against it. International observers commented unfavourably about the delay. Local government elections are likely to be held this year and the same problem will arise again with no obvious solution in sight.
All elections in Guyana since 1992 have been free and fair as attested to by international and accredited local observers. The allegations about election rigging since then have been contrived for political purposes and has resulted in the past in disturbances and violence. However, politicians appear to need a whipping boy to explain their defeat to their supporters and assuage their disappointment and anger. Allegations of election rigging is the most effective explanation for a loss.
Not only have elections been free and fair since 1992 but their management and quality have continually and consistently improved by GECOM and its staff. This has occurred in collaboration with political parties which notionally have representatives on GECOM. But even so, they have never been content to leave the elections to their representatives. They regularly issue statements, sometimes critical of GECOM, have meetings with the Chairman or the whole of GECOM, make demands, have scrutineers during the registration process, have an official objection period to the list and are present at the voting and counting. And GECOM has shown great patience and flexibility in dealing with the political parties. Nevertheless at every elections allegations of rigging or incompetence or deficiencies on the part of GECOM has become standard fare.
The pioneering 1992 elections presided over by Rudy Collins as Chairman of GECOM is the only one where a dedicated, elaborate and secure system of reporting of unofficial election results was designed and deployed. The final unofficial results were known in days. A pale imitation of the same system designed in 1997 to achieve the same objective abjectly failed. Thereafter only official results were announced at the insistence of the Opposition.
For results to become official several levels of certification are necessary. The results of polling places have to be counted, declared, physically posted and physically transported to the offices of the deputy returning officers. The deputy returning officers then have to compile all of these results whenever they arrive, certify them and physically transport them to the offices of the returning officers. They have to do the same and physically transport them to GECOM’s office. For areas on the coast this can take up to a week. For hinterland areas it can take up to two weeks. This is known to all political parties and it is nothing but utter hypocrisy for them to complain about delay when they themselves demanded that this identical system be adopted.
In most established democracies overall winners and losers are announced on the basis of unofficial election results, a claim of victory by the winner(s) and a conceding to defeat by the loser(s). The usual swearing in of a British Prime Minister the day after general elections cannot be on the basis of official results. The winner of the US presidential and many other elections in the US are known, determined and accepted long before the official results are declared.
There is therefore no reason why the unofficial election results in Guyana cannot be known and accepted within two days if a system of transmission of results from presiding officers to GECOM is established and those results compiled and announced by GECOM. With more and improved telecommunication facilities available since 1992, it will be immeasurably easier. And remember, the political parties also have these results because they have representatives at the polling stations and can confirm or not the GECOM results as they are announced. The only problem is our politicians who demand a rigid perfection according to outdated laws that permit only manual, and not electronic, compilation and communication, but then complain about delay.
The press reports about GECOM exploring the possibility of electronic counting did not mention transmission of results which is responsible for a major part of the delay. GECOM would already know this and may well be exploring means of communication of official results other than physical delivery of hard copies. After counting and transmission systems are devised and tried and tested, GECOM would no doubt make a decision – trust the machines and have earlier unofficial or official results, or keep the old system, and announce in two weeks. The 1992 system could also be dusted off, improved upon and tried again. I know what our politicians will opt for. They do not trust telephones, electronics and computers. After GECOM’s plan is rejected neither our politicians nor international observers should be heard to complain about delayed results.