The Representation of the People amendment bill which according to Deputy Speaker, Lennox Shuman is "desperately needed" was successfully passed in the National Assembly early Tuesday morning.
The amendment to the bill which protects Guyanese from electoral fraud, as the country gears up for Local Government Elections in March 2023, was presented by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC.
Atop the electoral reforms in this bill, is that anyone found guilty of obstructing an assistant polling agent or an alternative polling agent on the execution of his/her functions will be fined $10 million and jail time of 10 years. Similarly, any person who allows an ineligible person to vote is faced with the same penalty of a $10 million fine and imprisonment of 10 years.
There is also a stiff penalty for Presiding Officers who refuse to accept a form of identification from an elector, commits an offence and is liable to a $5 million fine and 10 years in prison. Anyone who deliberately attempts to mislead an elector is liable to the same penalty.
With the amended bill, the Presiding Officer must place the original statement of poll, signed by him/herself and the duly appointed candidates and polling agents, outside the polling station. The figures on the statement of poll will be deemed as conclusive evidence of the results, unless there is a recount of votes.
No one is authorised to remove that statement of poll from the polling station, less the spend 10 years in jail with a similar fine of $10 million.
The Chief Elections Officer is also mandated to post the results on GECOM's website, after receiving them from the Returning Officer.
In cases of proxy voting, the returning officer of the polling station must publish the names of the applications and the persons to vote as proxies as well as publish it daily on the Commission's website, newspapers, television, or other media, for persons to make objections where necessary.
The Chief Elections officer is also subject to the control of the commission. There is also no residency requirement for voting.
Announcing support of the Government's bill, was Opposition Member, Shuman who affirmed that "these reforms are desperately desperately needed. This bill does exactly what it should do to ensure what happen in 2020 does not recur."
He was alluding to the electoral ruckus that was prolonged for five months, from March 2, 2020 to August 2, 2020. The demonstrations and declaration of the election results by the then Chief Elections Officer, would have denied the People Progressive Party the victory of the General Elections.
It was only after multiple litigation in the High Court, Appellate Court and the Caribbean Court of Justice, a recount and mounting pressure from international electoral observers and foreign dignitaries, that the attempt to pervert democracy was halted.
Shuman noted that "these things should not happen in a modern democracy."
He even accused the main parliamentary opposition of deliberately stifling the electoral reforms by requesting for the bill to be sent to a special select committee.
Meanwhile, Attorney General, Nandlall said the bill "seeks to enhance, to modernise and reform, the democratic policy and architecture of our country, and in particular, to meet our electoral machinery, our registration process of citizens and the compilation of the list of electors more transparent, more accountable, more accountable, and more effective."
He noted that there were several rounds of consultations for the bill, with a wide range of stakeholders providing input.
Meanwhile, the main parliamentary opposition was ill-prepared to debate the bill, with Amanza Walton-Desir seeking to have the bill relegated to a special select committee of the National Assembly, for further scrutiny.
"Mr Speaker, the AG himself pointed out that it [the bill] is 63 pages in length. The amendments are wide ranging, Mr. Speaker, [so], I doubt that a responsible assembly would seek tonight-in the dead of night to foist upon the people of Guyana, a bill that has not had the scrutiny of the select committee; bearing in mind the importance that the Attorney General has outlined."
The opposition, through Roysdale Forde even went on to allege that the amendment to the bill is the PPP seeking "to put a regime that is self-serving."
Despite the protest of some opposition members, the bill was passed in the House.