Major contestants at the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE) have said while they are fully prepared for the polls, more work from the governing body – the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) – would have facilitated their campaigning, but nonetheless, they remain resolute that their hard work will bear fruit.
On Friday, Guyanese will head to the polls, this time to make a historical mark, as they participate in the first Local Government Elections in 22 years. Since the date for the elections was announced, major political parties, groups and individuals have been on the ground, mobilising their supporters to cast ballots in their favour.
One such contestant is Mark Benschop of Team Benschop who told Guyana Times on Tuesday that his team is very confident of the positive change it can bring to the citizenry of Georgetown.
“They want to vote for a group rather than the Government being in charge of a municipality. Our group, Team Benschop, is about competence, the most energised and diverse group contesting these elections in Georgetown. By virtue of that, people are willing to give us that chance with the vision and plans that we have,” Benschop said in a telephone interview.
Benschop hopes however that by the next LGE, expected in three year’s time, GECOM would get its “act together” so that the electorate could be properly edified. He said the Election body is now doing what should have been done months ago.
“We cannot expect them to do what they are doing now with one week or two week’s time and then expect voters to be satisfied. Voters are not going to be satisfied because team Benschop believes that more could have been done by GECOM in sensitising the public. More should have been done by the two major parties that have Commissioners at GECOM.”
According to him, “the majority of time” his party has been on the ground campaigning, it had to be doing “GECOM’s work”.
“We have to talk to people about the process and teach them to vote”, he said. He noted however that his group, which will be contesting the 12 constituencies, wants to offer a better life for all.
He said Team Benschop has been receiving “great” reception within the constituencies.
“We have been in every constituency. We have candidates who are walking and talking to people and we are selling our plans. We might not be able to meet everyone but are doing it through the local and social media, selling our plans to the people,” he said.
Meanwhile, over at Team Legacy, Leader Malcolm Ferreira said his group has also been doing what GECOM was supposed to have been doing for the electorate.
“We have taken it upon ourselves to educate the public and… have been using social media etc… I think GECOM could have gotten a little bit more time to do a more comprehensive voter education campaign. They have done and I will not outright criticise what they have done, but I believe that this, being the first in so many years, with a new system being implemented, the more voter education, the better,” he told Guyana Times.
Ferreira, whose group will be contesting both the Proportional Representation and First Past the Post in six constituencies, said maybe another two weeks would have been good to do a little more work with the people.
“For us we already knew we had a deadline and as a new group we did as much as… we can. Our campaign focused on voter education, because there was a lot lacking in that regard and to get over the message of what we want to accomplish in collaboration with the community. We have been doing house to house, door to door checks with the community. So in terms of preparations, we are right where we’re supposed to be,” he assured.
Ras Leon Saul of Healing the Nation Theocracy Party (HTNTP) was at the time in campaign mode in Constituency Four, when contacted by Guyana Times on Tuesday. He said that everything was going according to schedule and he was hoping for success at the polls. The party is contesting Constituency Four and Six. He remains the candidate for Constituency Four while the party’s leader Alfred Park will represent Constituency Two.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has already indicated its preparedness for the polls, saying on Monday that its supporters will be casting their ballots in an effort to send a strong message to Government, that they want to reclaim their country.
Meanwhile, GECOM’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Tamara Rodney said that all measures are in place to ensure the transparency of the process come Friday.
“Everything is pretty much on schedule. With regards to security all of our operations are being done in the presence of the officers of the Guyana Police Force along with party agents. Every single thing is done with scrutiny and transparency with regards to the elections for March 18,” the PRO assured.
She told Guyana Times that GECOM has undertaken to carry out the process in accordance with the policy that was approved by Commissioners, that is, “where the ballots are transported in the presence of agents – they are all in one vehicle as well as the Police.”
The PRO said that the body has been using every opportunity and medium to familiarise the public with elections process. “We have ads in the newspapers… the street campaigns where we have been going around to several communities in Guyana; we are wrapping that up and tomorrow we are going to Georgetown; we have different publications prepared for the public, which entails an animated sketch of the voting process with the ballot specimen,” she said.
On Monday, this publication spoke with a number of Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) offices where it was confirmed that polling stations have been earmarked and selected for constituents to cast their ballots.
Best-Klien/Pouderoyen NDC incumbent Chairman, Omesh Balram told Guyana Times that everything is “coming up fine” in his district. He noted that there will be 30 polling stations within the area’s 10 constituencies on election day.
Works Chairman for Herstelling-Little Diamond NDC, Wilfred Hassan related that the area has 15 polling stations and opined that the majority of residents are aware of the voting process.
Similarly, incumbent NDC Chairman of Toevlugt-Patentia Roy Bennett said all is set in his district.
“We are ready, everything is in place. We have 21 polling places in the community; some are private residences some are public places.”
Jaideo Sookhoo, the incumbent NDC Chairman of Mora/Parika, stated that his party, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) as well as the APNU/AFC have engaged members in his area’s eight constituencies. He however opined that GECOM should have done more voter education programmes as many constituents are still unsure of the voting process.