By Edward Layne
While the turnout at last Friday’s historic Local Government Elections (LGE), is seen by many stakeholders as low, three top overseas diplomats based here have described the turnout as “better than many other countries.”
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Monday pegged voter turnout at 47.1 per cent.
Speaking at a joint news conference on Monday, United States Ambassador Perry Holloway, British High Commissioner Greg Quinn and Canadian High Commissioner Pierre Giroux have also agreed that this turnout was not disappointing, as traditionally local elections in many parts of the world, including their own countries, Canada, US and UK, have not been attracting high turnouts.
“In the UK a 38 per cent turnout in Local Government Elections is actually quite high, so if you look globally, local government elections always tend to have lower turnout than national elections,” Quinn told the joint news conference.
Quinn said no one reason could be blamed for the low turnout:
“I don’t think it’s one reason, I think we can’t sit here and say the reason for the low turnout is x, I don’t think there are many number of reasons why there was a low turnout, people didn’t quite understand the process what they were voting for, people didn’t understand why they should vote for these people, many of them don’t have experience, what a councilor can actually do for them. So I think there is no one reason.”
Nonetheless, he urged stakeholders to do more so that the turnout for future elections can significantly improved.
“I think everybody, and that means the voters, politicians who are standing for positions, need to get out, the parties need to get out, so it’s not just a question of one person or one individual being responsible for upping the turnout, everybody needs to get involved,” he asserted.
His US and Canadian counterparts also shared similar sentiments.
“While we would have liked to see a higher turnout, it is completely understandable that in the absence of local elections for more than 22 years, there would be some anxiety, apprehension and uncertainty among some voters on what these elections were all about,” Ambassador Holloway added.
Asked whether they are concerned about the extended time taken by the GECOM to announce the results, Quinn who answered most of the questions at the news conference stated that while he would like the see the results being released faster, he along with his counterparts are cognizant of the constraints facing the electoral body.
“It takes as long as it does because of the process which GECOM has to follow, the processes which are laid down for GECOM, so I think they are hamstrung to a certain extent to do things in certain ways, so that has caused a delay,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Holloway said Friday’s Elections have laid the ground-work for the journey ahead, pointing to the next LGE in 2019.
He said that come 2019, voters, candidates and Guyanese on the whole will build on Friday’s experience and increase voter turnout as citizens will hold the elected officials accountable for their actions over the next three years.
Holloway also urged that there be greater voter education in the coming months so as to ensure that come 2019, Guyanese are better equipped, thus improving the turnout.
“The parties, GECOM, the media, the private sector, civil society and others must continue to educate voters on the process,” he urged.
Free, fair and transparent
Ambassador Holloway meanwhile, reinforced an earlier joint statement that the elections were free, fair and transparent.
He said the diplomatic missions fielded a team of observers who monitored the elections across the country and, based on the feedback received, the results were held in conformity with the Laws of Guyana.
“Our observers witnessed nothing that would call into question the integrity or accuracy of these Local Government Elections and our considered opinion is that the process to date has met international standards for free, fair and credible elections,” Holloway declared.
He told reporters that some problems did arise but they were quickly identified and resolved.
Unofficial results thus far has handed overall victory to the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic which copped some 48 of the 71 Local Authority Areas.