September 27, 2016

Surujbally, Shaddick spar over GECOM’s voter education programme

LGE 2016

– Commissioner blames GECOM; Chairman rejects responsibility

By: Devina Samaroo

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Dr Steve Surujbally’s glowing praises on its voter education programme was challenged by Commissioner Bibi Shaddick who insisted that the election’s body is majorly responsible for failing to successfully inform the public of the nature of Local Government Elections (LGE).

GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally and Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield

GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally and Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield

During a media conference on Saturday, Surujbally refused to take blame for the widely presumed poor voter education programme, which many believe was the chief reason for the miniscule turnout at the polls on March 18.
He rather suspected that the contesting candidates, groups and political parties should be held responsible for not bringing out their supporters for the historic electoral process.
“That cannot be GECOM’s fault… we felt that more work should have been done by the people who wanted to be in position of leadership… None of the people that you see working at GECOM are/were standing for an election; that is not our job,” he asserted.
Surujbally also contended that the law does not require GECOM to roll out civic and voter educational campaigns.
“If you look at the very prescription as defined in the law as GECOM’s function, you might be hard pressed to really find civic and voter education, but we have taken that upon ourselves and I will go so far as to say that there was a time where political parties took on that job,” he explained.
Regardless, Surujbally talked up the Commission’s voter education programme and posited that the importance of the elections as well as the voting process really was not difficult to comprehend.
“If you look at the ballot paper and it’s not too dissimilar from the ballot paper that you hold in the general and regional elections. It is not too complex an issue for even the person who is of a lesser educational background to understand and grasp as to why you should vote. Persons know distinctively that I should vote for somebody who I believe will carry out activities not inimical to my interests but for my interests. So what is there to understand or what is there to not understand…,” he posited.
At this point, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C)-nominated Commissioner contended that GECOM should have done more to educate the general populace about these elections.

“I feel very strongly about this and I’ve said this more than once… GECOM’s civic and voter’s education started too late,” Shaddick exclaimed.
According to the Commissioner, these LGE are unlike any elections Guyana has faced and for that reason, the nature needed to be explained to the population.
Shaddick distinguished that it is not the importance or voting process of the elections which the general populace did not understand but rather it is the nature of the system that appears to be mindboggling.
“Many people who went and voted still do not understand that this system is not like the system we have for general and regional elections. People still don’t understand that there is a PR (Proportional Representation) and what that means… what the constituency candidate means, and all that,” she explained.
Shaddick also blamed the media for failing to properly educate the public.

Surujbally returns
After contradicting his position, Surujbally still maintained that GECOM worked assiduously to get information out to the public:
“The focus over the last six weeks didn’t begin then… there were call-in programmes and panel discussions taking place since last year… There was a bombardment of texts and call-in programmes and interview… it is not something that just started a week ago, please do not go away with that impression,” he stated.
Nonetheless, Surujbally assured that GECOM will ensure it will take measures to improve in areas where it fell short.

Meanwhile, GECOM Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield disclosed there was approximately 38/39 per cent voter participation in LGE 2016.
He noted that there was 55.5 per cent voter participation on Disciplined Services Voting Day.  LGE 1994 recorded 47.91 per cent overall voter participation.

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