Despite cries by the Parliamentary Opposition for more time to be given to allow greater scrutiny of the draft amendments to the electoral laws, the Government early this morning used its one-seat majority in the National Assembly to approve the amendments.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall declared that the amendments are much needed to enhance, modernize and reform the democratic architecture of the country and to make the country’s electoral machinery, the registration process of citizens and the compilation of the list of electors more transparent.
The marathon debate on the amendments went on until after midnight Monday and into Tuesday morning.
The debate saw members of both sides of the House trading words and accusing each other of electoral fraud and misconduct in past elections.
In defending the Amendment Bill, the Attorney General said it was in the public domain for several months and was subject to much public commentary and contributions.
He said believes the time was right for its passage.
“These amendments were immediately triggered by the unfortunate incidents which marred the 2020 General and Regional Elections where flagrant attempts were made to thwart the democratic will of the electorate,” Mr. Nandlall said.
But the Opposition wanted the Bill to be sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Amanza Walton- Desir, who opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition, said given the gravity and importance of the Bill, it should be further scrutinized.
“Mr. Speaker, the Attorney General himself said that it (the Bill) is 63 pages in length and the amendments are wide-ranging. Mr. Speaker, I doubt that a responsible assembly would seek to tonight in the dead of night, foist upon the people of Guyana, a Bill that has not had the scrutiny of the select Committee,” Walton- Desir said.
But Attorney General Nandlall said in addition to the aftermath of the 2020 elections, the country’s electoral laws were in a poor state and needed to be revamped.
“Our electoral laws unfortunately have been passed over the last twenty-five years in a very piecemeal fashion, so you have several pieces of amendments scattered all over the legislative landscape amending the Representation of the People’s Act, amending the National Registration Act and then we had anomalous situation where we had a Bill that present itself as an amendment but it was a principle Act,” the Attorney General told the Assembly.
On the Opposition side, Walton-Desir said while the Opposition wholeheartedly supports electoral reform, it cannot support the notion that it is now done in response to what transpired in the aftermath of the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
She recalled that political parties, civil society groups and the international community have long call for electoral reform.
The Opposition MP also reminded that there were several allegations of electoral malpractice leveled against the PPP while it occupied the seat of government pre-2015.
“We on this side of the house will say that we support electoral reform— unequivocally, we support honest and earnest electoral reform, let the records show, what we will not support is the PPP administration coming to this House to foist these provisions upon the people. The Honorable Members on the other side of the House must know that public consultation and scrutiny of a piece of legislation by a select committee are two completely different things,” Desir told the house as he made her case for time to scrutinize the bill.
Among other things, the amendments provide for the sub-division of three voting districts in Regions Three, Four and Six, which were described as large voting districts.
It also mandates that the Statements of Poll and other official documents be distributed to the Chief Election Officer and Chairperson of the Elections Commission and be posted on the Commission’s website.
Heavy fines and jail time are also proposed for elections malpractice.