The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) says it cannot hold elections by March 19 and was never in the position to accede to the hosting of elections in 90 days. Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield made this clear during a press briefing held by the commission today at its Head Office.

Lowenfield said it would not be possible to hold elections before July.

“The reality is very simple. For us to conduct an election there has to be staff. At the moment if elections are to be held, we will have an estimated amount of 2,300 polling stations or thereabout. Those polling stations have got to be manned by staff and even if I utilise 20 training teams, their utilisation on the weekends at schools across Guyana will see us taking a minimum of seven to nine weeks to ensure we train in all these regions,” Lowenfield said.

With reference to the claims by opposition nominated commissioners, Bibi Shaddick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn, that elections can be held in 52 days if GECOM trains the necessary staff all week, the CEO explained that many of the persons employed as Polling Officers, Assistant Polling Officers and clerks mainly work at other agencies.

Lowenfield said “they may be teachers, they may be nurses, they may be public servants. So, if the suggestion is that I train them from 5 [o’clock] every afternoon for two days… I think the turnout at best would very meagre.”

He further added “ordinarily, when we conduct training, persons invited to attend would say, ‘I did not have a babysitter etc.’… So, for the most part, our attendance is 80-81 per cent. I shudder to ask them to attend training every day. The trainers we have identified to conduct the training exercise are teachers… So, it’s like being in the field wasting 5 days until it’s Friday.”

Emphasising the commission’s position, Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Roxanne Myers said if elections were to be held in March, then nomination day would have had to have been by the end of January.

She also said it would take 105 days if procurement of sensitive materials is done at the same time with the training of staff.  This timeline, she says, does not cater for the house-to-house registration process, a demand made by government supporters who yesterday picketed the commission.

“With a July elections date, it means that the life of the list would have expired so you will have to have a claims and objections period for what we proposed to be 28 and 7 before the elections can be held but claims and objections can be done simultaneously,” Myers explained.

Following the December 21 vote in the National Assembly and the recent ruling of Chief Justice (ag), Roxane George, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has been called upon to prepare for elections ahead of 2020 when they were initially constitutionally due.

Meanwhile, Lowenfield says he is awaiting instructions from the commission to activate the work of the secretariat for preparations to host the elections when called.

Kidackie Amsterdam. DPI