Saturday, April 1, 2023

Guyana appoints new elections chief in bid to shed 2020 distrust

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Since the conclusion of Guyana’s chaotic elections in August 2020, rebuilding confidence in public institutions and in the country as an investment destination has been a key objective of the new government. The Irfaan Ali administration had insisted that it would not move to local government elections until GECOM officials implicated in what observers had said was a clear attempt to thwart the will of the people, were removed.

It took the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) a year to remove these officials, one of which was Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, who was heavily criticised by the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for putting forward results that were not consistent with the outcome of a recount of the votes.

On Tuesday, four months after Lowenfield’s dismissal, the country’s new elections chief was sworn in – an experienced former election official called Vishnu Persaud. GECOM’s Chair, a retired Supreme Court Justice named Claudette Singh pointed to his 17 years of experience working with GECOM, having even acted as the elections chief before, as one justification for her decision to hire him. He also received the recommendation of one of Justice Singh’s predecessors, Dr. Steve Surujbally.

“Nobody has to have any worry about my neutrality or that I may deviate from the path of what is lawful and proper,” Persaud said, alluding to the 2020 controversy.

“Most of you in the media and most people in the public at large would have known me for carrying out my duties in adhering to the laws, the policies of the commission and basically, carrying out my duties in a professional manner. In that regard, I guarantee that I will continue in that same faith.”

Persaud said he knows GECOM’s reputation also needs a lot of work and pointed out his extensive public relations background with the agency as instrumental.

In the lead-up to Guyana’s local government elections, the central government has proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act, a set of laws governing the conduct of elections, in Parliament.

Included in the amendment are multi-million-dollar fines and hefty jail times for election offences. One provision proposes a lifetime sentence and a $10 million fine for the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) for committing fraud.

Meanwhile, Lowenfield and others who were fired due to the 2020 elections controversy are under the scrutiny of Guyana’s judiciary.

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