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Civil Society Forum outlined four priorities in meeting with President

19 August 2022
< 1 min read

This was published as a news article in the Kaieteur News on 19th August, 2022.

The Civil Society Forum (CSF), which comprises nine groups, underlined four priority areas during a meeting on Tuesday with President Irfaan Ali.

A statement from the CSF on Wednesday said that it discussed its four priorities — developing a civil society agenda, strengthening the legal architecture for civil society, improving the performance of key state institutions and helping to heal Guyana’s socio-political wounds.

In this context, the statement said that discussions focused on the One Guyana Commission, the Guyana Police Force, single window systems to make it easier for citizens to engage government services, and the bolstering of mechanisms for citizens to participate in policy making processes.

The statement said that both the President and the CSF signalled their interest in a partnership between government and civil society that is based on a ‘new 2-way relationship’ creating the possibility for future collaboration, regarding matters of national importance.

The CSF signalled its willingness to learn more about government’s plans in areas related to the Forum’s four priority areas. The Forum also pledged support for efforts to promote transparency and citizen inclusion in policy making processes. Several follow up actions were identified, in a bid to foster a deeper relationship between citizens and government.

Members of the CSF expressed gratitude for the dialogue and assured that they are willing to engage moving forward.

The President was accompanied at the meeting by Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira.

CSF said that it is a coalition of organizations, including Electoral Reform Guyana (ERG), Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Heal Guyana (HG), Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), the Roman Catholic Church (RC) and Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI).

Guyana’s electoral system under “stranglehold” of a few

25 July 2022
3 min read

This was published as a news article in the Kaieteur News on 25th July, 2022.

Local economist and electoral reform advocate, Dr. Desmond Thomas, believes that Guyana can achieve its true potential on the basis of institutional changes led by electoral reform.

Speaking at lecture on electoral reform organized by civil society group Article 13, Dr. Thomas noted that even as society evolves and changes are implemented, the systems must equally undergo reforms.

“I believe there are institutional changes that this country needs and I believe that electoral reform is the place to start. The political literatures tell us if you have an unstable environment the place to start is usually electoral reform,” he said.

However, Dr. Thomas pointed out that in Guyana, the electoral system is under the “stranglehold,” of a few people.

The electoral reform advocate made specific reference to structural composition of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). Dr. Thomas stressed that the structural makeup at GECOM makes it difficult for the electoral reform to be achieved.

“I was trying to think about the last time that GECOM did something positive, constructive and noteworthy for this country and I thought for a long time but couldn’t come up with anything. The fact of the matter is that GECOM is just there with two sides fighting each other,” explained Dr. Thomas.

According to Dr. Thomas, for the Elections Commission to overcome its issue, it must start operating on an independent and non-partisan basis.

Dr. Thomas asserted, “GECOM’s problems are rooted in the fact that it comprises of partisan political persons. There are some basic elements of any solid elections commission, it must be non-partisan. We can’t have an elections commission being run by people who are themselves involved in the elections. At GECOM, we have persons from the main political parties and then we have the chairman. That can never work.”

As part of his presentation, the economist referenced composition of elections commissions in India and Jamaica.

Dr. Thomas noted that “In places like India and Jamaica, there are efforts to make the commission independent and autonomous. Part of it is making sure that the elections commissioners are appointed in some kind of non-partisan way and also protecting them when they become members from political influence and one way to ensure this is by giving the persons fixed terms.”

He continued, “In Jamaica, there are nine people on the commission, four nominated by the parties, four nonpartisan and the CEO. And who elects the Chairman? The nine members; so we don’t have the problems we have here where we take a long drawn out process to elect the chairman.”

He stressed therefore, if Guyana is to achieve its true worth, a change in the electoral system is inevitable.

The electoral reform advocate noted that reform is something that is continuous because of the changing face of society and how things are done.

He said, “While the country is no doubt endowed with vast natural resources, if we don’t get our act together, we will not be able to benefit from our vast wealth and the ambitious goal to raise the living standard of the average person will not be achieved.”

“Development doesn’t depend on gold and silver and oil. It depends on people of vision and if we don’t get those things right, we are not going anywhere.”

Dr. Thomas’s view on changing the structural composition of GECOM is not isolated. Following the March, 2o20 election, the Organisation of American States (OAS) Electoral Observation Mission, in its menu of recommendations, called for the restructuring of GECOM.

The Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2000 paves the way for the appointment of six members of the commission – three appointed by the President and another three appointed by the opposition based on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. The Chairman of the Elections is appointed by the President from a list of six nominees proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. However, former Prime Minister of Jamaica and Head of the Mission Bruce Golding told journalists that the existing formula is a recipe for division.

“The mission observed the polarisation among the members of the Guyana Elections Commission and the challenges this created in arriving at consensus on most issues.

The divisions appear to exert undue pressure on the chairperson and the use of his or her casting vote to resolve decisions before the commission,” Golding explained.

This was the case in February 2019 when the then Chairman of the Elections Commission, Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson, had used his casting vote to support a motion for the conduct of house-to-house registration. Justice Patterson had come in for major criticism from the opposing side.

Cognizant of the prevailing challenges, the OAS Electoral Observation Mission had recommended that Guyana engages in a multi-stakeholder discussion on the structure of GECOM in an effort to enhance the “deliberative nature and decision-making process of the Commission.”

Electoral Reform Group condemns East Coast looting

4 July 2022
< 1 min read

This was published as a news article in the Stabroek News on 4th July, 2022.

While upholding the right of citizens to agitate in the furtherance and defence of their interests, the Electoral Reform Group (ERG) says that it is appalled at the acts of rioting and looting that occurred on June 28 in connection with the protests related to the Quindon Bacchus killing.

In a statement yesterday, the ERG said it condemns these acts in no uncertain terms and called on the authorities to expedite the investigation of the Bacchus killing and the rioting so that all who were involved in illegalities are held accountable.

“These events reflect the reality of a permanent undercurrent of political distress in Guyana, where unrest and instability are always around the corner even at times of apparent calm. There is a thunderstorm brewing under blue skies.

“The events also illustrate the folly of the politics of ethnic division and polarization that pervades the nation. One is left to wonder at the possibility that, were it not for the rioting, the people of Mon Repos would have supported the demonstrators from the villages further east”, the ERG said.

It added: “The real tragedy, therefore, is the loss of working-class solidarity that brought a massive, united victory in 1953, but has been shattered ever since. This incident serves to underline the destructive nature of the relationship between the Government and Opposition, and the futility of basing electoral reform initiatives narrowly on the events of the 2020 attempted rigging instead of addressing the underlying electoral arrangements that lead to perverse political behaviour, such as relate to ethnic insecurities, state capture, and elections”.

A review of the 2020 elections is warranted and one expects GECOM to lead the process.

26 June 2022
2 min read

This was published as a letter to the editor in the Stabroek News on 26th June, 2022.

The recent announcements about the proposed General and Regional Elections Commission of Inquiry cast a shadow of doubt over the process. On the one hand, we have the announcements by the Government of the CoI prompted by the attempted rigging of the elections in 2020. On the other hand, we have the decision of the GECOM Chair that GECOM should not undertake an independent review of the elections.

The decision of the GECOM Chair is a curious one that raises questions about the Commission itself. Does the Chair have the power to overrule the other GECOM members? Or is the Chair’s action a way of letting GECOM partisan members off the hook for their positions and acceding to Government leading the process? As has been clear for so long, the way GECOM is constructed and functions needs thorough review and reform.

Unquestionably, a thorough review of the 2020 elections is warranted, and one would expect that GECOM, as presumably the independent elections authority in the country, is the proper agency to have a leading role in the process. What is the good of GECOM if it cannot be expected to do this? The stage is now set for the usual political ‘wrangling and tangling’ (my late mother’s expression) over the inquiry which could be avoided by GECOM taking charge.

It must be stressed that this CoI must not be too narrowly focused. It is not enough for the conclusions to be a vindication of the claims of one party about winning the elections or the skullduggery that took place. All that is now in the past and matters are before the courts. It is for the courts to do their job and decide those matters. This CoI must be forward-looking.

As recent studies have indicated, a large part of the Guyanese population does not have confidence in the fairness and reliability of our elections. The most important task of the CoI is to stop loopholes that make fraud possible and strengthen the credibility of our elections. If the CoI can achieve this, it will make a solid contribution to the stability and progress of this country.

As things stand, we now await the details of the terms of reference. We have had many CoIs over the years but it is hard to put a finger on any concrete outcomes from them. General elections are a serious matter and the Guyanese public has a right to expect an intense investigation that produces concrete, actionable results. We await the details of the terms of reference and hope the Government authorities will be responsive to the interests of the public in this regard.


Desmond Thomas

Allow Civil Society and GECOM to roll out consultations on Guyana’s first genuine referendum on electoral reform

19 May 2022
2 min read

This was published as a letter to the editor in the Stabroek News on 19th May, 2022.

It is to be taken as a positive move by the opposition A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) to say it would be formally recommending to the government that a broad-based national consultation on electoral reform be held. https://demerarawaves.com/2022/05/17/apnuafc-to-formally-ask-president-ali-for-national-consultations-on-electoral-reform/. They did well to justify their delay by listening to civil society. So it is a welcome development when APNU+AFC said the electoral reform process must include the in-depth involvement of experts on electoral laws, electoral systems, elections technologies, and elections management. This is indeed a movement up from their harping on the voters’ list and PPP/C rigging being the cause of their 2020 elections loss.

The sheer immorality of known election riggers asking for reform without themselves reforming rankles me, and definitely will rankle President Ali too. Therefore the only genuine “One Guyana” approach the President can take is the course of Cheddi Jagan’s legendary choice of walking with the people, and allow Civil Society and GECOM to roll out, with consultations, Guyana’s first genuine referendum on the matter, with well-publicized education on the issues at stake. Here are some important ones:

1. Should the party list leader instead of the voters choose who should represent the people in legislative and local government assemblies?

2. Should a party be allowed to fire a member of parliament or regional councillor for voting against the party line even if the constituency is in sync with the MP or councillor?

3. Should the power to appoint and dismiss governments lie in another body, as in other CARICOM countries, or should our president be allowed to retain the power to have to dismiss his own government as currently the case in Guyana?

4. Should political parties have transparent democracy in electing their leaders, so that the wider electorate may be more confident in their choices?

5. Should political parties be allowed to form coalition governments without declaring the intention before elections?

6. Should GECOM be reformed to include civil society (like in Jamaica) and transparent recruitment, and to move away from the temporary Carter-Price formula of effectively having only the two main parties choose the commissioners?

A system for such a referendum already exists in the studies and experimentations of the Electoral Reform Group (ERG). The current head of the ERG, Dr. Desmond Thomas, has also written a book on Electoral Systems, especially for Guyana, where he classifies electoral systems under the choosable characteristic priorities of accountability, inclusiveness, proportionality, stability, and transparency; and which he launched before the March 2020 elections. https://www.amazon.com/Electoral-System-Reform-Diverse-Nation-ebook/dp/B083ZJCBDS. Experienced people in local and other elections, like that of the first head of the ERG, Lawrence Lachmansingh, can also be easily found and accessed. All parties should unite for holding a referendum for us the people to determine our destiny.


Alfred Bhulai

Civil society group believes probe into 2020 elections necessary for proper reform

15 May 2022
3 min read

This was published as a news article in the Stabroek News on 15th May, 2022.

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) has called for an investigation of the 2020 general elections, more social consultations, and reform of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as part of its contribution to the draft Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill and Regulations.

According to a release from the Attorney General’s Chambers, the state authority met with the group on May 9. This group, along with GECOM and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, it noted provided the most “substantive” contributions regarding the reform election laws, and that representatives of the government were gearing to meet with the organisation.

The release said that ERG had submitted comments on the proposed amendments in December 2021. But at the meeting with Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, SC., other government officials, and representatives of the Private Sector Commission, ERG pointed out that President Irfaan Ali was yet to facilitate an investigation into the last election controversy. “The ERG observed that upon assumption of office, the President had stated that there would be a thorough investigation into the political crisis following the March 2 elections in 2020, but this has not occurred. Such an investigation is a critical step toward diagnosing the causes of problems and will better guide reform proposals,” the group submitted.

ERG representatives, while grateful for the opportunity to engage the government on electoral reform issues, noted that the meeting “fell short of what is required of an adequate process of social consultation”. The AG, nonetheless, indicated government’s commitment to electoral reform, but said that it is dealing “only with statutory changes to the Representation of the People Act at this time, specifically excluding changes to the Constitution.” He mentioned that constitutional changes would require bipartisan consensus.

The ERG maintained, however, that sustainable electoral reform requires comprehensive social consensus with effective civil society involvement. ERG said that the narrow focus on the RoPA amounts to reinforcing a system in dire need of reform instead of fixing it. A key sticking point was that, the government continues to overlook the obvious, urgent need for restructuring and reform of GECOM. “The present GECOM structure is not working adequately to deliver elections that are free from suspicion and readily acceptable to major stakeholders, and thus needs to be reformed to enhance the Commission’s capability and fortify its role in the ongoing process of election system review and reform, as exists in other countries.”

The ERG representatives also indicated support for the principle of proportionality but held that this did not negate the urgent need for reform. The AG, however, defended Guyana’s current electoral system arguing that proportional representation guaranteed the democracy of the system. “This position ignores the findings of studies and recommendations in the media for years that indicate that a large proportion of the population has no confidence in Guyana’s electoral system,” the release added.

On the matter proposing the breakup of Region Four into separate districts for election purposes, the ERG reiterated its position that this was not justified, given that the problem that occurred in 2020, was caused by a breakdown within GECOM and not by Region Four voters. “It is therefore not clear how this measure is an improvement of the electoral system. The ERG representatives expressed the view that more careful consideration should be given to the proposal for dividing Region Four (and other regions) into a number of constituencies,” the ERG noted.

The AG’s position during the meeting, according to the ERG release, took many critical issues off the table for consideration, including several matters listed in the ERG’s submission.

Press Release- 6th January, 2022

6 January 2022
2 min read

This was published as a press release on 6th January, 2022.

Government’s Proposal to Amend The Representation Of The Peoples Act (RoPA).
The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) acknowledges publicly its response to the Government’s release of draft amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA). The Government of Guyana released the draft amendments on 5 November 2021, inviting stakeholders and the public to review, comment and propose additional amendments. Responding to the draft amendments, the (ERG) has prepared and submitted a comprehensive review to the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. ERG’s submission is available upon request.
Three key points in the submission are detailed below.
1. ERG calls for a comprehensive electoral reform process
Government leaders have said that the main motivation behind the proposed amendments is to impose measures, such as increased fines and jail time for election officials, to prevent a recurrence of the political crisis of March to August 2020 following the General Election. However, while we share the nationwide abhorrence of the fraudulent attempts following the 2020 general elections, focusing on the events of 2020 leaves unaddressed many electoral reform areas of deep concern to citizens. The effort to combat a long history of electoral fraud and political instability, and consequent reduced public confidence in election results in Guyana, requires a comprehensive electoral reform process.
Local and international observers and concerned Guyanese have repeatedly called for a more comprehensive overhaul of the electoral system. ERG believes the proposed RoPA amendments have missed an opportunity to generate broader electoral reforms and strengthen electoral administration. This is especially true for some key challenges that have not been addressed in the proposed RoPA amendments, such as: the composition of GECOM, the voters list, stronger constituency representation and accountability of members of Parliament to citizens, campaign financing and greater transparency, including the increased use of technology.
2. ERG reaction to proposed amendments
We suggest the proposed amendments be accompanied by justification on how they meet the perceived objective and how they can lead to more confidence in our future elections. Some of the proposed RoPA amendments are deficient, impractical, and even unjustified. These include: a polling station in ‘every village and locality’; division of Region 4; no increased penalties for election officials influencing the voting decision of an elector; no provision for the publication of list of electors or SOPs via electronic media; a minimum number of contested constituencies for a party, which undermines election participation by smaller parties; no increase or changes in the constituent representation.
3. ERG calls for dialogue on electoral reform
As enshrined in Article 13 of Guyana’s Constitution, ERG is fundamentally committed to assuring the participation of citizens in the decision-making processes around electoral reform. We assure of our commitment to promoting dialogue as a means of achieving implementable and meaningful electoral reforms. The single most worrying omission from the current process is the absence of dedicated spaces for stakeholders to discuss and deliberate together, as a means of achieving national consensus on the proposed reforms. ERG strongly believes that electoral reforms need to benefit from a national consensus if they are to have the desired effect.

Electoral Reform Group says splitting up Region 4 is unjustified, provocative.

3 January 2022
5 min read

This was published as a news article in the Stabroek News on 03rd January, 2022.

While acknowledging that the proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) are a start in the process of electoral reform, civil society group ERG is contending that the proposal to divide Region Four – Guyana’s largest electoral district – into sub-districts is provocative and unjustified.

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) made its position known in its recent submission to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance.

One of the major changes the government proposes is the division of Region Four, the country’s largest electoral district, into four sub-districts – East Bank Demerara, East Coast Demerara, North Georgetown and South Georgetown – effectively adding a new section to Section 6 of RoPA, which deals with polling districts and divisions.

“Singling out Region 4 for special treatment is unjustified and provocative. It is an affront not to GECOM officials but to the residents of Region 4. If there is a need for the proposed measures, they must be applicable across the board,” the group said in response to the government proposing to split Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) into four smaller sub-districts to “better manage” elections.

The draft amendments are a result of the debacle at the March 2nd 2020 general and regional elections which lasted exactly five months between balloting and the declaration of the final results. That was due to a series of twists and turns including several court challenges, reaching the highest Appellate Court – the Caribbean Court of Justice, moves to declare unverified results and a national recount of all ballots.

As a consequence of the events of the March 2020 elections, several former GECOM officials, including its Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, Deputy CEO Roxanne Myers, and Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, and political party officials were charged with election-related offences.

The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance released the draft amendments in early November and set aside a six-week review period. That period is now over.

In its December 19 submission to the government, the ERG said that the proposed amendments need to be supported by notation to show how they meet their objective and make election management more secure. The government has repeatedly stated that the proposed amendments are to ensure that there is no recurrence of the events that followed the March 2020 elections.

ERG says that the amendments start from a conceptual basis and are inconsistent with the recommendations provided by various election observer missions. It noted that a review of the comments and recommendations made by the observers shows a consistent pattern of calls for a comprehensive overhaul of Guyana’s electoral system.

The grouping also acknowledges that while the need to improve the Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) effectiveness and credibility is evident, the government should not just be focusing on that. It added that electoral fraud is not a new concept in Guyana and dates back decades but solely concentrating on the unprecedented attempt to derail the 2020 election, is a step in the wrong direction.

“The effort to combat electoral fraud in Guyana requires an in-depth investigation of electoral management and processes…A reform of highest priority that Guyana needs is reform of the composition of GECOM and the way in which it is constituted. GECOM as currently constituted is dysfunctional and prone to deadlock… The proposed amendments fail to address fundamental GECOM reforms needed to improve the institution’s functioning and without which there can be no serious electoral reform,” ERG submitted.

Zeroing in on specific amendments the government proposed, ERG said that the proposals for the appointment of supernumerary and deputy supernumerary returning officers along with assistant agents, polling agents, alternate polling agents and counting agents, run contrary to proposals by the Electoral Assistance Bureau for the consolidation of polling stations. Additionally, the group said the government failed to take into account the additional costs, supervision and management of the elections process.

Furthermore, ERG submitted that the proposal to place polling stations in every village and locality is impractical and likely to create an administrative nightmare.

Among the standout amendments are the introduction of hefty fines and lengthy jail time for several election-related offences. The fines are in the millions while jail time ranges from three years to life. In response to that, ERG said “the increased fines and imprisonment penalties are excessive and counterproductive. They will have a deterrent effect in attracting quality personnel to election operations positions. Moreover, they are objectionable in terms of their relations to penalties for other crimes (e.g. murder and domestic abuse).”

Moreover, the group pointed to Sections 77 and 78 which speak to influencing the decision of an elector and interference of electors in the approach to a polling place respectively, questioning why no increase in penalties for those sections.


The Electoral Reform Group related that RoPA presents the government with the opportunity to accede to the repeated calls for stronger constituency representation and accountability of members of Parliament to citizens.

“…the amendments are deficient in not addressing measures such as an increase in the number of constituencies and amendments to the system to allow direct election of constituency MPs. This can be addressed directly in RoPA, which defines the number of constituencies, the allocation of seats in Parliament, and the rules for Party participation in national elections,” it noted.

In its submission, ERG suggested that there are another nine areas in RoPA that can be changed without requiring alterations of any other Act or Statute.

It identified Section 3(2) that deals with the party-list system and suggested that there exists the opportunity to reword the section so that the list could be ranked to ensure the electorate know who would be selected to represent them.

ERG said that there are opportunities to increase the constituency representation “to ensure some balance in representation e.g. set national average of 8,000 votes per seat i.e. voting population of 600,000 then 75 seats in parliament – seventy constituencies and 5 national top-up seats.” The group also submitted that government can consider limiting the top-up list to 5 using the existing system.

It further submitted that the requirement of parties to contest a minimum of 13 of the 25 constituency seats seeks to undermine the ability of smaller parties to contest the election. It also called for the incorporation of technology in the counting process in an effort to promptly transmit and publicise results of the voting in polling places and constituencies.


ERG said that it is worried about the lack of dedicated spaces for “stakeholders to discuss and deliberate together, as a means of achieving an increased national consensus on the proposed reforms.”

“While the ERG is heartened at public announcements by government representatives, including the Attorney General, that the RoPA amendment process will not be the only electoral reform process pursued by the Government, the lack of specificity on what will be later reformed, when, and how, unnecessarily reduces public confidence in the reform process.

“ERG is concerned that electoral reform processes are not reduced to a mere parliamentary show of strength – such as the RoPA amendments appear headed towards. Electoral reforms need to benefit from a national consensus if they are to have the desired effect,” it added.

ERG also urged the government to consider the extension of the period for public comments and the establishing a multi-stakeholder electoral reform committee that would work in conjunction with a state-funded Electoral Reform Secretariat to identify the entire raft of electoral reforms needed, and supporting processes to be completed ahead of 2025.

ERG will work with all interested citizens in 2021 to lay ground for election we can be proud of in 2025

20 December 2021
2 min read

This was first published as a letter to the editor of Stabroek News on December 20, 2020.

We noted with delight your article of December 16 headlined `Constitutional, electoral reforms should be ‘people-driven’ – President, former Presidents say.’

When in office, former President Granger had sent a similar message regarding constitutional reforms, when he said “I don’t want a boardroom constitutional reform, I want public discussion. I want people in their communities to meet and express their views…we need to go to the people, find out what the people think…we need to listen to them.” (SN, June 20, 2016)

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG), a citizen-based group that was launched earlier this month, agrees that citizens must be at the centre of reform efforts. As such, we are encouraged by the consensus on a ‘people-driven’ approach to reform among President Ali and all four former living Presidents.

To this end, ERG has highlighted the importance of Article 13 in our constitution, which sees Guyana’s democracy as “providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations, in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.” Few would deny that Guyana’s elections directly affect the well-being of citizens.

However, we have detected significant levels of citizen cynicism when it comes to their efforts to participate in the decision-making processes of the State. Tokenistic consultations, inadequate preparation, no feedback loops, limited implementation of decisions, elite capture – these are examples of what we need to avoid in the future ‘people-driven’ electoral reform process.

In 2021, ERG plans to engage citizens using high quality stakeholder engagement tools and techniques that demonstrate inclusion, transparency, and respect, for example. Within our limited resources we will do our best to ensure that all voices, with particular attention being paid to typically under-represented or excluded groups, such as youths, women, Indigenous Peoples, and the poor, are heard.

We believe a citizens-engaging-citizens approach will bring out the wisdom of our People and lead, in partnership with the State, towards the most meaningful decision-making on electoral reforms. To this end, ERG will work with all interested citizens to lay the ground in 2021 for an election that we can all be proud of come 2025.

Yours for Guyana,

Alfred Bhulai

David Singh

Desmond Thomas

Devta Ramroop

Errol Ganpatsingh

Godfrey Whyte

Heetasmin Singh

Kerry Anne Cort-Kansinally

Lawrence Lachmansingh

Rene Edwards

Rory Fraser

Sara Bharrat

Press Release- 5th December, 2021

5 December 2021
2 min read

This was published as a press release on 5th December, 2021.

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) was launched a year ago to work towards meaningful electoral reform and an inclusionary democracy, using dialogue as a strategic tool for building consensus on the eventual reforms.
As a democratic organisation, the ERG held its second Annual General Meeting on December 4th, to account for the work done over the past year and to elect the executive that will lead the group over the next year.
We are pleased to announce that the Implementation Team of Desmond Thomas, Heetasmin Singh, Kerry Anne Cort-Kansinally, Lawrence Lachmansingh, Rene Edwards, Rory Fraser and Vanessa WIlliams will continue in office. For the next year, ERG’s Coordinator will be Desmond Thomas.
ERG Views on Electoral Reform
The ERG aspires to represent the electoral reform needs, interests, and views of Guyanese at large. To this end, the Group is on record as holding the following views:
1. The proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) are a welcome opportunity for national engagement on electoral reform
a. ERG recognises that RoPA reform is necessary ahead of local government elections and the next national elections.
2. The RoPA amendments require thoughtful inputs
a. ERG will produce an analysis of the proposed RoPA amendments for consideration by all stakeholders.
3. ERG urges an extension to the 6-week RoPA process
a. ERG urges that government consider extending the 6-week deadline for inputs, to facilitate the increased awareness and participation of citizens in the RoPA amendment process.
4. RoPA amendments alone are insufficient
a. ERG contends that Amendments to RoPA alone, while necessary, are insufficient to address the core of Guyana’s electoral problem.
b. ERG anticipates that subsequent reform processes will be initiated by policy makers to address large and outstanding electoral reform needs that the RoPA process may not address, such as the composition of GECOM, the voters list, and the regulation of political parties.
5. The core electoral challenge is the electoral system
a. ERG believes the core of the electoral reform agenda over the next few years must necessarily be a focus on reforming the electoral system itself so that those who are elected are accountable primarily to voters and demonstrate increased capacities for political cooperation.

The current draft ROPA amendments reflect only the interest of government and the PPP/C

2 December 2021
3 min read

This was published as a letter to the editor in the Stabroek News on 2nd December, 2021.

I am no expert, but merely a graduate student of electoral policy and administration and a democracy and governance professional. This is not an attempt at false modesty. It is a responsibility; one you will understand better as you read my personal thoughts on electoral reform and the current situation in Guyana. There are many different types of electoral systems, lots of dense literature on the pros and cons of each and no generally accepted basis for choosing one system above another, apart from the needs to which that system must respond. As a result, both the choice of electoral system and advice towards that choice is very difficult for everyone involved. These challenges also apply to choices about changes to the established electoral system, and demands an electoral reform process designed with national aspirations and needs at its core.

Guyanese scholars (the most recent in my repertoire being Dr. Desmond Thomas) have written to some extent on our history of tumultuous (lik-down, bruk-down) elections and its impact on development. The 5-month electoral process in 2020 was a sharp reminder that we are yet to solve this national problem and it deepened existing wounds among our people. After the 2020 election, historically high levels of distrust and suspicion among competing groups became worse. In this situation, how electoral reform is approached is just as important as pursuing reform. While some groups are interested in swift actions to safeguard against some challenges of the 2020 electoral process, there is no quick fix to electoral reform especially when the process seems to require re-establishing trust among key national groups (like political actors and civil society). Revisions to the legal framework for elections, in this case amendments to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA), are only one part of the reform solution.

Currently, the draft ROPA amendments reflect the interest of Govern-ment and the Peoples’ Progressive Party/Civic (the draft was reportedly reviewed by the party’s central executive committee) and is open for public feedback until December 17, 2021. While government has written directly to some stakeholders, there seems to have been no other efforts to facilitate a consultation process beyond this. Whether we like the method or not, we find ourselves in a situation where the release of the ROPA amendments has officially begun the national electoral reform process. It is far from an ideal start but offers an opportunity for Govern-ment to take a step back, consider the feedback from key groups and hit the reset button by facilitating an initial round of consultations to get a sense of stakeholder interests and pave the way forward based on participatory decision making. As we continue along this journey of electoral reform, there are several things we should do our best to remember:

1. While it may be understandable, given our history, that the two major political parties are suspicious, distrustful, and even afraid of each other and they are both to varying degrees suspicious, distrustful, and dismissive of civil society, if we are serious about pursuing electoral reform, we will need to figure out an arrangement of working together. The longer we take, the more expensive of a problem it will become. Division serves external parties, not us.

2. Reforms to our electoral system should be chosen by a broad set of actors and stakeholders. This should not be left to one group or self-declared experts and/or advisors. (This is why I am careful to not declare myself as having more expertise than I currently do.)

3. No political interest should dominate the decision-making process. Domination of one group’s interests over another has landed us in the political pickle we are in.

4. We must consider the consequences of reforms. For example, the current draft ROPA amendments are heavy on punishments for the Chief Elections Officer and other electoral management body staff. How will this impact the hiring of quality staff and general administration of elections in the future? Good luck to us dealing with ourselves


Sara Bharrat

Reform group calls for ‘simplifying’ of proposed elections law amendments.

28 November 2021
5 min read

This was published as a news article in the Stabroek News on 28th November, 2021.

With the six-week review period for the draft amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) winding down, the Electoral Reform Group (ERG) is calling on the government to simplify the proposals in order to reach the wider Guyanese population and extend the timeframe.

During an interview with the Sunday Stabroek, ERG’s Coordinator Lawrence Lachmansingh explained that the draft amendments, released by the government on November 5, requires “simplifying and demystifying.”

“We need education, absolutely, and that is something we [ERG] ourselves are committed to doing within our limited resources. But recognising that a lot of people are confused by what is RoPA and what this law means and so on and so forth, so we have to simplify and demystify them,” he related.

He added that the civil society group has been calling for the broadening of the electoral reform process, while noting that there is an opportunity for engagement at the grassroots level which can put forward solutions to a lot of Guyana’s electoral troubles. He explained that by harnessing the national capacity as a means of moving towards national consensus, then Guyana can end up with an electoral system that is representative of the people’s interests and not just those of the politicians.

“But when all of that is done, I think the basics are comprehensible readily by the people in terms of what is the problem that needs to be fixed and the more we talk to people I think the more we’re going to develop a national consensus,” he posited.

Lachmansingh urged the government to consider a little bit more generosity in terms of the spaces for regular citizens to join in, learn and participate in the decision-making process as an accompaniment to the electoral reform process. He further called for the government to not just look at electoral administration while ignoring the larger issues that affect the wider populace.

The government’s proposed amendments focuses heavily on addressing administrative issues that occurred during the March 2020 polls. Additionally, it introduced hefty fines and serious prison time for elections-related offences.

The ERG coordinator said that the Group is still sifting through the different proposals for the reforms using wisdom from those in the group who have participated in election administration and observation along with heeding the various recommendations made by observer missions.

“So we’re looking at the current proposed reforms from the perspective of what’s in there that’s good, and which was already identified… also what’s missing in terms of additional reforms that are needed,” he said.

Lachmansingh said that the amendment of the law is just one aspect of the reform process and it should not end there as it should address a number of very important challenges that Guyana has dealt with in the past, including the electoral system.

“When we vote and go to the polls and we elect somebody, how does that person actually end up representing us because that is fundamentally a function of elections? So a lot of that work hasn’t even started yet. So we’re looking forward to subsequent reforms. We can continue in ROPA and do what we have to do there. But we need to also put on the other aspects like political party campaign financing, political party regulation… we hope that there are downstream steps that will cover the other important aspects of electoral reforms,” he expressed.

Extension and consultation
Since the proposed amendments and their accompanying regulations are written in legal language, which ordinary Guyanese may have a problem deciphering, Lachmansingh is proposing engagements at the community-level.

“The second point that we’re [ERG] making, though, is that we really hope that this current process will actually be amended, extended, somehow adjusted, so that firstly, more people have a chance to participate. So we’ve already gone on record as saying that we think the current six-week process actually requires a bit more time for people to really consider the ins and outs of the proposed amendments so we have a chance as a country together,” he said.

The government has not held any consultations with the wider population since releasing the draft amendments. In fact, it was only after the amendments were released that the Guyana Elections Commission was invited to make submissions.

On that note, Lachmansingh called for the creation of spaces to discuss the proposed amendments instead of having a back and forth where the country ends up with changes that do not reflect the view of the wider population.

“We don’t think the solution to Guyana’s elections problems lies in the hands of technical experts like us. It lies in a process where people dialogue and discuss their differences and try to agree on a choice amongst the many good options. There’s no doubt about it, especially with technology now. The issue is not whether we lack technical correctness, the issue is how do we achieve a political consensus that will be a process correctness and so that point is something we really want to hold on to,” he said.

He added that they are hopeful that government considers and responds to the idea that a more inclusive and participatory process would be beneficial.

Doesn’t pass the smell test
Joining the call for an extension of the review process and a more inclusive methodology, ERG’s implementing member Dr Rory Fraser said that government took about six months to come up with the proposed amendments and therefore it cannot expect persons to examine it in just six weeks.

“They’re doing as they’ve done in the past, put their time and effort into something that they want to get done and then pass it under a nose and say smell this. See if it smells right. This one doesn’t pass the smell test because we didn’t have long enough to smell. We need time as they had to really get these things as a larger response. Because what we have in six weeks would be woefully inadequate to give a response for two major reasons: One, for all we have heard it has not gone far enough by a long measure, and second, there are some very, very significant things that are not currently in this current legislation that could have and should be addressed,” he contended.

“We don’t really have a representative government; what we have is a government that seems to be governed by the people in charge of major parties and those major parties are given that authority in a sense by our electoral system. Therefore, if we have a chance of making significant changes then we first have to address the electoral system,” he added.

The draft amendments are a result of the prolonged March 2020 general and regional elections process, which lasted exactly five months between balloting and the declaration of the final results amidst attempts to alter the legal outcome.

One of the major changes it proposes is the division of Region Four, the country’s largest electoral district, into four sub-districts – East Bank Demerara, East Coast Demerara, North Georgetown and South Georgetown – effectively adding a new section to Section 6 of RoPA, which deals with polling districts and divisions. Also proposed are hefty fines and lengthy jail sentences for elections officials who act unlawfully.

That amendments have, however, been criticised by the political opposition and civil society groups.

Electoral Reform Group says Guyanese need more time for reform process

20 November 2021
3 min read

This was published as a news article in the Demerara Waves on 20th November, 2021.

The non-governmental Electoral Reform Group (ERG) has refused to comment on the proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) but has instead publicly called for more time to for consultations and generate inclusive consensus.

“We would really call on the government to give serious consideration to extending this process and to widening the spaces for us to all come together and discuss what is really needed whether on RoPA or the myriad of other issues that have emerged over the years from observers, interested persons, citizens and so on,” said ERG Coordinator Lawrence Lachmansingh on a live discussion Friday night on News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/ Demerara Waves Online News. He could not say specifically how much more time is required.

He cautioned that working through the media was a “recipe for confrontation” and would lead to much-needed consensus.

In the absence of an “inclusive process” to begin the discussion rather than media engagements, the ERG wants a national conference on electoral reform to bring together stakeholders from political parties, the private sector and civil society to discuss the issue.

Mr. Lachmansingh hopes that the numerous election observer mission reports can be used as the basis for a consultation to examine issues such as the removal of the names of deceased persons and migrants from the voters list, campaign financing, advantage of incumbency of elections, closer relations between political representatives and constituents, efficient process for the declaration of results and the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

The commission is largely made up of three persons each from Guyana’s two major political parties, but over the years there have been calls for civil society and other stakeholders to be included. The People’s National Congress Reform and the People’s Progressive Party had also in the past shied away from campaign financing legislation, citing the need to protect donors’ identities.

Fellow ERG member, Dr. Desmond Thomas also argued that GECOM should be restructured to allow for decisions to be made by consensus rather than a single vote to achieve a slim majority of four. Against the backdrop of a deeply divided political landscape between the People’s National Congress Reform and the People’s Progressive Party, he said his organisation preferred to leave the process to wide-ranging consultations and consensus rather than taking a position. “The problem with that is once you take a position you’re cast as being in this camp or that camp. We’re not on that kind…we’re non-partisan and what we want to do is to really focus on getting to a solution and the solution does not necessarily mean one side or the other; there are other solutions,” he said.

Mr. Lachmansingh said the ERG’s work among the grassroots has been hamstrung by the more than year-long COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of funds. However, the proposed RoPA amendments are being analysed, he said, based on a number of categories to ascertain what has been captured by the amendments. Those, he hoped, could be dispatched to the government and form part of a conference.

Noting that the ERG was not a technical expert group but instead of “trying to be in the middle” and offer solutions based on a process. “Everybody has views but we are not about prescription right now. We are about bringing about that process that involves civil society in a more meaningful way,” said Dr. Thomas while relying on Article 13 of Guyana’s constitution to engage all stakeholders. He cited the need for a lot of education about how the current and future electoral system would work.

Dr. Thomas said the effort at electoral reform was not merely associated with the March 2 to August 2, 2020 controversial counting and declaration process, but electoral problems have been dogging Guyana for decades. “We have been in this kind of political jungle for a long, long time. Last year was just bound to happen because it was a symptom rather than a cause,” he said. He said the suggested amendments to the RoPA are far too confined to “narrow areas” instead of the broad issues.

He said his organisation had written to Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall but he has not replied.

The draft amendment essentially entrenches a bad electoral system

14 November 2021
2 min read

This was published as a letter to the editor in the Stabroek News on 14th November, 2021.

The proposed amendment to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA), if passed in its present form, would be a missed opportunity for needed reform. Its weaknesses stem partly from its very motivation. The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and the Attorney General have stated that the aim of the reform is to avoid a recurrence of the post-election crisis events of 2020. This line has also been repeated by the media.

We all want to prevent last year’s events from happening again, but the draft reforms do not go far enough to avoid political crisis and improve the political environment. To behave as if our political problems started in March 2020 is woefully shortsighted and ill-conceived. To address the weaknesses inherent in the current RoPA, you would have to go back at least to the deadlock over the appointment of the GECOM Chairman in 2017. That process broke down completely with the then President making a unilateral choice. The Caribbean Court of Appeal later found that appointment unconstitutional and Justice Patterson was removed. For the most part, what the draft amendment does is essentially entrench a bad electoral system. Its passage at this time, instead of creating stability and progress, would set us back years. It does not even attempt to address the issues that concern the average Guyanese ‘man in the street’. People want a system that makes members of parliament accountable to citizens rather than party executives. People want less of the political polarization that divides a diverse nation into two camps and pits brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour.

One intention behind the adoption of proportional representation fifty-seven years ago was to foster a vibrant, multiparty political climate. The present RoPA frustrates that vision, and the proposed amendments do not even attempt to address this issue. People want an electoral commission with credibility and that promotes national consensus. This means that the issue of how GECOM’s commissioners are selected and function must be addressed. It is not enough to focus on the operations of the GECOM secretariat staff. People want a GECOM that is not subject to the dictates of any party and that can exercise effective and independent authority to keep parties in line on electoral matters. People want an electoral system with clear rules about campaign finance to guard against our democracy being bought or stolen. People want a system where politicians and social elites are not above the law. These ideas about what Guyanese people want for an electoral system are not just a matter of my opinion; they are based on media commentaries and recommendations that have been discussed in this country for decades.

The proposed amendment has overlooked these factors and more. In the end, all it does is to raise the penalties on malfeasance by GECOM officials. It also singles out Region Four as the misbehaving Region of the nation, which is not likely to go down well. One would expect that amendments should apply uniformly across the country. It proposes splitting Region Four up into four sections for administrative purposes but misses the opportunity to make real progress by increasing the number of constituencies and improving the accountability connection between representatives and citizens. The Government says the proposed amendment aims to prevent the recurrence of last year’s electoral crisis, but it is doubtful that it will achieve that aim because it leaves so many critical issues unaddressed.

Desmond Thomas

Press Release- 1st November, 2021

1 November 2021
2 min read

This was published as a press release on 1st November, 2021.

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) reiterates its commitment to a process of electoral reform that is based on national dialogue, with civil society playing a substantive role.
We noted the announcement in May this year of a project to strengthen the capacities of GECOM and the Attorney General Chambers. At that time, the Attorney General emphasized that this project was of the highest priority, given its vital importance to the maintenance of good governance, public order and national development. He stressed that time was of the essence.
Against this background, ERG wrote to the Attorney General and the Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs on September 6th and 30th respectively requesting an update on the progress and proposed timelines for completion of the project. We also requested information on the Government’s electoral reform plans, including the review of the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) and proposed timelines for completing the reform plans. No response has been forthcoming thus far.
The ERG agrees that GECOM and RoPA reforms are pressing necessities that must be carried out swiftly to make way for Local Government Elections, which were expected this year, and in preparation for the next general and regional elections.
ERG is concerned that amendments to RoPA alone, while necessary, are insufficient to address the core of Guyana’s electoral problem.
We welcome press reports that the Government plans to circulate proposed amendments to RoPA. However, there has been no indication as to whether this process will address the electoral system.
ERG is of the view that, as minimum requirements, electoral reforms must:
1. Address the structure and composition of GECOM itself and not just staffing matters of GECOM’s Secretariat, or electoral offences.
2. Incorporate substantive, effective citizen involvement in the reform process, consistent with Article 13 of the Constitution and the creation of an inclusionary democracy in Guyana, via a comprehensive national consultative process aimed at achieving a consensus reform proposal for parliamentary consideration.
3. Ensure that a new and improved electoral system, which increases the accountability of Parliamentarians to citizens, is used for future national elections.
The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) stands willing to participate, along with other stakeholders, and lend support to the electoral reform process.

The work of the ERG is to give citizens the opportunity to choose our electoral system

30 May 2021
2 min read

This was published as a letter to the editor in the Stabroek News on the 3oth May, 2021.

Freddie Kissoon in his Kaieteur News column of Tuesday May 18, 2021, has some pointed questions for the Electoral Reform Group (ERG). Here are the answers:

1. We know arithmetic and do not accept that the half of 65 is 34. The decisive term should be ‘minimum majority’. The minimum majority of 65 is 33.

2. We accept that the Constitution was violated when election was not called three months after the no-confidence motion.

3. We accept that the March 2020 election was being rigged for five consecutive months until the pressure from the world caused a halt to the rigging. I personally resented having to become involved in the recount, which at most should only have been for the Statements of Poll (SoPs) that were not produced by the GECOM.

In spite of the differences Mr. Kissoon has with me, the ERG respects the influence he has and often the insights he brings to discussions. His claim that he has not heard of 99% of the ERG members indicates that we may not be the usual suspects. So do not dismiss non-partisan civil society. In a polarized nation, there has to be a way to get the poles together, and such civil society offers a medium. We are not referring to the polarization of right and wrong, upon which we do not encroach. Those who are wrong must either demonstrably repent or go. They remain to the country’s detriment. But being right is not enough. The whole series of events since the no-confidence-motion demonstrated that getting it right is a necessary but not sufficient condition for harmony — because there were not sufficient people who knew arithmetic in that party and who had the character to tell their leadership in no uncertain terms that they were wrong. Education is therefore also necessary. Character we will have to pray for.

The group began meeting weekly in July 2020, became incorporated November 23, 2020, and was launched December 5, 2020. But many of us were involved in election matters before. More recently, but before the March 2020 elections, Dr. Desmond Thomas published his book in December 2019, Electoral System Reform for a Diverse Nation, the case of Guyana. It is available in Austin’s locally and on Amazon, and in a Kindle edition which has the updates. The genius of the book is that the electoral system can be reformed according to 5 selected characteristics: proportionality, accountability, inclusiveness, transparency, and stability. The idea of the ERG is that citizens can become sufficiently informed to make the choice. We never had the opportunity to choose our electoral system. So the work of the ERG is to give citizens that choice. It will not be easy and we will need everybody’s help. Here is an opportunity to contribute to our own home-chosen electoral system, no matter which party we vote for. Anyone, including Mr. Kissoon, is welcome to inspect our template and data at an arranged time. Let us demonstrate that all Guyanese can unite in formulating something we can genuinely call our own.

Alfred Bhulai
Electoral Reform Group Inc. (ERG)

Guyana needs a broad-based mechanism to drive national consensus on electoralreforms

28 May 2021
2 min read

This was published as a letter to the editor in the Stabroek News on 28th May, 2021.

Recent concerns about the US Government’s planned electoral reform project, to be implemented by the International Republican Institute (IRI), were met with a positive response from the PPP/C, which has variously confirmed that civil society and political parties will have an input on electoral reforms, and that the draft amended Representation of the People Act (RPA) would be circulated at the end of June 2021. These are encouraging responses. The ERG had previously stated it has no problem with the US Government or any other international partner supporting reforms to both GECOM and the electoral system, so long as those reforms:

i. Are developed through a process of dialogue and negotiation among Guyanese people, and

ii. Genuine citizen representation plays a central role in the process.

There is no shortcut around such a dialogue on the road to needed electoral reforms. ERG respectfully recommends that a broad-based national mechanism, characterised by inclusion and transparency, be created to support all electoral reform activities, including the amending of the RPA. The international community could be invited to observe the process. A broad-based mechanism would improve public confidence and participation in the reform process, and better ensure that all stakeholders support the eventual reforms. If ever there was an opportunity to operationalise Article 13 of our constitution, which mandates the participation of the PEOPLE in decision-making processes that affect their well-being, electoral reform is that opportunity.

There are many different examples we can draw on to design such a mechanism, including Guyana’s earlier constitutional reform and national development planning processes. ERG has confidence that such a mechanism, designed and implemented wisely, will overcome the unproductive rancour that tends to accompany political debate. To this end, we further suggest that Government convene key civil society and political party stakeholders to design the electoral reform mechanism and to agree on the management, funding, and other aspects of the mechanism. We are reminded, Editor, to observe that Guyana needs a national consensus on electoral reforms. An inclusive electoral reform mechanism will help ensure consensus. ERG is committed to supporting the participation of citizens in that consensus.


Desmond Thomas

Errol Ganpatsingh

Heetasmin Singh

Kerry Anne Cort

Lawrence Lachmansingh

Maria James

Mike James

Neil Pierre

Rebecca Ramroop

Renata Chuck-A-Sang

Rene Edwards

Rory Fraser

Vanessa Williams

All stakeholders should be involved from inception of electoral reform process

18 January 2021
2 min read

This was published as a letter to the editor in the Stabroek News on January 18, 2021.

We are encouraged by the Attorney General (AG)’s comments in an interview (Kaieteur Radio, January 9, 2021), in which he said that a small unit has been tasked with compiling requisite pieces of legislation to be reviewed in consultation with relevant stakeholders who will work together to correct the loopholes. We, however, have two major concerns with the information shared:

The AG seems focused on fixing loopholes associated with the 2020 election. While improved legislation could address some administrational concerns with GECOM (electoral lists, polling day procedures, tabulating the votes and reporting the results), our position is that, what the AG identified as an electoral reform process, does not go far enough, there are number of other long-standing problems with the electoral system which have been articulated and repeated by citizens, observers, both local and international. Such systemic weaknesses which have gone unaddressed for too long and are at the very root of the 2020 electoral crisis.

The AG has a small unit tasked with compiling requisite pieces of legislation to be reviewed. While we acknowledge the need for legislative reform we are concerned by the process to determine which legislation will be selected for review. Given our highly politicized climate, this is only going to be seen as a tainted process. Our position is that all stakeholders should be involved from the inception of a reform process. They should collectively identify the requisite pieces of legislation and any other rules, regulations, or standing orders to determine that which is to be reviewed in consultation.

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG) stands willing to participate, along with the other stakeholders, and lend support to the electoral reform process. We encourage the AG’s continued embrace of democratic principles and efforts to transcend partisan boundaries. Guyana must benefit from an electoral system and processes which place citizens at its heart.


Alfred Bhulai

Devta Ramroop

Desmond Thomas

Heetasmin Singh

Kerry Anne Cort-Kansinally

Lawrence Lachmansingh

Rene Edwards

Rory Fraser

Sara Bharrat

Electoral Reform

20 December 2020
5 min read

This was published as a news article in the Stabroek News on 20th December, 2020.

Last Tuesday three ex-presidents and the current one held a forum at State House, sans Mr David Granger. It was effectively a “Think Tank” chirruped the state paper all a-flutter. Hardly. Apart from the fact that think-tanks are of an entirely different composition, it has to be said that three of the participants have been denizens of Freedom House for so long that it would be quite astonishing if they could surprise their comrades with anything they had not heard before. Even Mr Sam Hinds who was a member of the Civic component in government for more than twenty years, must be well acquainted with the drift of party thinking, although admittedly his counterparts may be less familiar with any radical thoughts which might have been gestating in his mind over the past five years.

The truth of the matter is that a meeting of this particular grouping involving only members from the same party or associated with it, did not require any ritual; the four of them could have hunkered down in some comfy armchairs and had an informal conversation at any time. As it is, however, these fora are to be institutionalised and held quarterly. Given all the publicity, a little curiosity inevitably was generated about what had emerged from the meeting. What President Irfaan Ali was reported by the Office of the President as saying about it was a little short on detail, although the participants apparently all agreed that constitutional and electoral reforms should be people driven.

Where electoral reform specifically was concerned, the release said ideas were discussed on how to strengthen the electoral system, have external support in our legislation (whatever that might mean), stronger penalties and a clearer definition in terms of the electoral system. If that was not exactly enlightening, earlier statements from Attorney General Anil Nandlall provided some context.

On December 7 we reported the AG as saying that the government had drafted a list of electoral reforms. If that has already been done, what is meant by the statement from the presidential forum that all the participants agreed constitutional and electoral reforms should be people driven? If there is a draft already in existence, and the ‘people’ have other suggestions not in tandem with the draft, would President Ali’s government then defer to the wishes of the people?

One of the priorities, according to the AG, was to strengthen the continuous registration process which could include making an external organisation responsible for registration. It would then present the data it had assembled to Gecom prior to elections. There would too, he said, be a legislative outline of how the votes in ballot boxes would be verified, and stiffer penalties for electoral crimes. In addition, offers of electoral aid from various countries and agencies would be taken up.

He also alluded to staffing, saying that hiring issues had to be addressed “so that the system attracts persons of integrity,” in addition to which it “must also reflect … the ethnic demographics of the country”. In short, in his view “the legislation and other aspects of the elections machinery will have to be scrutinized very carefully.”

It might be remarked that employing staff on the basis of the ethnic demographics of the country is not the same thing as hiring persons on the grounds of their integrity. It speaks volumes about the government’s pre-eminent concern in circumstances where it is at pains to convince the populace that inclusiveness is its true priority. One can only wonder if its real intention is indeed to write Gecom ethnic quotas into the revised electoral legislation, which would not only set a precedent in this country, but invite a slew of criticism.

The AG’s and by implication the President’s concerns mostly relate to mechanical issues, such as the one pertaining to an external agency compiling the voters’ register. This is a novel idea which conceivably might even attract support outside the government. Some of the other preoccupations are connected specifically to preventing a repeat of what occurred in the five months following the March 2nd election. Whether all of these plans, such as increasing the penalties for electoral criminality will be vastly more effective than what already obtains is possibly open to dispute.

Whatever the case, when civil society talks about electoral reform they have something far more fundamental in mind than does the government or the presidential forum. Whether or not it is coincidental, the AG spoke the day after the launch of a new civil society group which is seeking significant electoral reforms that it would like to see in place before the next general elections. The Electoral Reform Group, as it is called, intends to spend the next year reaching out to various communities to reach consensus on what reforms are necessary.

The economist Desmond Thomas, a member of the steering committee, explained at the launch that the intention is to “foster and support a civil society dialogue process aimed at formulating an electoral reform proposal for legislation and execution by 2025.”

Other lead members emphasised that no silver bullet for solving Guyana’s problems existed; however, there was the reminder that several countries had undergone electoral reform which provided significant examples of best practices which could be emulated. In a letter published in this newspaper subsequently, the group wrote that the ERG saw electoral reform as “the entry point that leads to broader reforms.” They did not deny the pessimism expressed by many citizens about the political leadership accepting the needed changes, and they quoted one as saying, “Political parties are dedicated to staying in power and are historically not the best engine of change that may impact their own power.”

There is, of course, an additional problem in this instance, and that is the culture of the PPP which is wedded to its Marxist-Leninist approach. While the vast majority of its members no longer adhere to the ideology, the party has never jettisoned the methods associated with that ideology. That is to say, it is obsessed with control, and as the vanguard party the need for it to be the originator of innovations. It may talk about inclusion, it may talk about people-driven reform, but that is not how it operates, especially if the ‘people’ fall outside its penumbra.

While the ERG will seek to include all the political parties in their dialogues, it is very much in doubt as to whether the PPP will cooperate with any initiative which derives from beyond the perimeter of Freedom House. Most recently there was the example of the refusal of President Ali to attend the National Conversation on improving ethnic relations because the Ethnic Relations Commission, so he maintained, “went into hiding” in the five months following the election, and failed to consult his government in the planning of the event.

Considering, as we reported, that contrary to what he asserted, the commission did issue statements on two occasions, it seems to come down to the lack of involvement of the government in the planning arrangements, although he personally was invited. Among other things he said the ERC was not functioning properly, and it had put in the midst of the conversation “persons who were part of the process to derail democracy”. We are certainly not going to get very far on the inclusiveness front if he is not going to talk to APNU+AFC sympathisers in any circumstances, although one has to ask whether he was not the one who invited Mr Granger to his presidential forum.

While it makes sense to approach constitutional reform through the avenue of electoral reform, it has to be remembered that it is also a very technical issue which will also require the input of some knowledgeable individuals. President Ali’s ‘people’ and the ERG’s ‘grass roots’ can outline the principles they want to see incorporated, but the majority of them will not be able to supply the details or the structure. There also needs to be a conversation at a different level, which Dr Henry Jeffrey, for example, had briefly introduced in his column on making MPs more accountable on August 12th this year.

In the end electoral reform of any meaningful kind depends on persuading the politicians, particularly whoever is in power. That is not an easy task, and will require a great deal of sustained pressure from a wide swathe of the community. It remains to be seen if the ERG can be the catalyst for this.

We see electoral reform as entry point to broader reforms

12 December 2020
3 min read

This was first published as a letter to the editor of Stabroek News on December 12, 2020.

The Electoral Reform Group (ERG), a citizen-based initiative, was launched last weekend.

The response to the launch demonstrated the interest of Guyanese, both at home and abroad, to support concerted efforts that improve our electoral system and processes.

In addition to enthusiasm and encouragement for our effort, over a hundred substantive questions and comments were received, for which we are grateful.

While we attempted to anticipate most of the substantive issues via our launch presentations (which can be viewed on our FaceBook page), we appreciate that not everyone can access this information.

As such we are thankful, Editor, for your assistance in sharing information about ERG that would help fellow Guyanese to understand more about the group and its plans.

Firstly, almost a dozen persons sought clarification on ERG’s thinking as regards electoral reform, in context of the need for broader constitutional and governance reform.

There is no doubt that Guyana needs constitutional and governance reform. However, ERG sees electoral reform as the entry point that leads to broader reforms. We contend that fixing the electoral system is a vital step to enabling other institutional improvements because, ultimately, constitutional and governance reforms must be supported by elected representatives. A reformed electoral process will incentivise elected representatives differently and, we believe, set the stage for strengthening governance and the constitution over the long term.

Of course, electoral reform and constitutional reform are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, legislating for electoral reform will inevitably require constitutional changes, for example as regards the electoral system or the design of GECOM (both of which are enshrined in Guyana’s constitution).

Additionally, dozens of citizens expressed despair at the prospects of the political leadership embracing the needed changes.

We cannot deny this pessimism. One citizen said, for example, “Political parties are dedicated to staying in power and are historically not the best engine of change that may impact their own power!”

Notwithstanding the embarrassment caused by our 5-month electoral ordeal, ERG observed many signs in 2020 that Guyanese may now be more awake to the magnitude of the electoral problem facing us.

For example, it was evident that youths (including those from political parties), civil society, the media, and the diaspora worked hard to end the political bickering and gamesmanship. The role of the judiciary is also noteworthy.

The two major parties have made public commitments to improving future elections. President Ali, for example, at his inauguration and in context of the 2020 elections said, “we will pursue the necessary reforms to make our democracy stronger and our electoral process more transparent.”

For his part, Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Joseph Harmon, during the budget debate in September, is reported as highlighting “the need for reform of the country’s electoral laws and consequently the elections management body – the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)” and the willingness of the opposition to work with the government on constitutional and electoral reform. (https://newsroom.gy/2020/09/19/harmon-says-opposition-stands-ready-to-work-with-govt-on-constitutional-electoral-reform/)

As such, ERG sees Guyana’s electoral reform glass as being more than half full. We will work with all interested citizens, including the political parties, to lay the ground in 2021 for an election that we can all be proud of come 2025.

Guyanese can expect ERG to continue with these public discussions, as we deepen a national dialogue on electoral reform. We urge the public to continue sharing thoughts and to become an ERG member via our Facebook page or e-mail at erg@electoralreformgy.org.

Yours for Guyana,

Alfred Bhulai

David Singh

Desmond Thomas

Devta Ramroop

Diana Cruickshank

Heetasmin Singh

Kerry Anne Cort-Kansinally

Lawrence Lachmansingh

Maria Diaz-James

Mike James

Rene Edwards

Rory Fraser

Sara Bharrat

Test Panel