Electoral Recount: The Unabated Storm

The question today is what stance the EC/ESC will take on petitions elsewhere coming up for Court hearings after two years of constant denegations

By Jan Arden

We will recall that after two years of steadfast denegations by the Electoral Commission/Electoral Supervisory Commission and the opposition of the returned candidate for a recount in Constituency No19, the Supreme Court, in the light of “glaring discrepancies” ordered a recount under Court supervision between elected MP Ivan Collendavelloo and fourth candidate Jenny Adebiro.

The outcome of that recount has confirmed the election of the MP and leader of the Muvman Liberater, in what should have been a huge relief for him but seems to have left a very sour aftertaste. An unabated storm about the overall conditions and numerous anomalies, grave according to his own post-recount statement, that have marked voting or counting both in the No 19 constituency and somewhat more generally in several constituencies where appeals have been lodged, has been fuelled further one might say by anomalies cropping up at recount.

In short, MP Ivan Collendavelloo was returned with a diminished margin (from 92 to 80 vote difference) but at least three controversial elements hogged the limelight in this Tuesday’s Court recount, namely, (a) a valid bulletin from another constituency (No.1) being found in sealed ballot box of No19 brought to the Court Master, (b) two, maybe more, unembossed and counted voter bulletins inside the boxes that have remained under SMF guard after the 2019 elections, with three access keys as pointed out by the Electoral Commissioner himself.

To be fair to the Electoral Commission (EC), human error could explain the latter while the former incident, referred as several others by the EC to the Police Force sleuths, may not yield any worthwhile outcome, taking account of several other cases of mysteriously wandering bulletins referred to the police since 2019.

What was however far more disturbing for election matter watchers was the third unexplained incident: a difference of 73 bulletins between valid and certified bulletin returns as boxes were sealed at close of voting day and those brought to Court for recount. No human error happenstance would hold water for such high numbers of missing bulletins under the trusted tight supervision of the ESC/EC and the latter need not pass the buck down the line to his trusted officers.

The addition of more such “glaring anomalies” to the original serious discrepancies the Supreme Court had recognised in the Recapitulation of Votes tallies that should have been in possession of the Electoral Commission since two years, has prompted both Ms Adebiro and returned MP Collendavelloo to condemn these serious “failures of our institutions”. The latter also called for a thorough review of how such discrepancies and anomalies have marred and tainted our once uncontroversial elections, barring the odd challenge, an unabated storm that looks set to continue over all constituencies where narrow wins have been recorded and proclaimed.

The credibility of the 2019 elections and the “failures” of the supervisory process, from voter registration, through selection of officials, through alleged “bussing” of Commonwealth immigrant voters, to computer rooms, voting and counting have been the object of continuous controversies between political parties, media watchers and ordinary citizens. The recount, which should have allayed all fears and allegations of unusual impropriety, have for many left a bitter taste.

The question today is what stance the EC/ESC will take on petitions elsewhere coming up for Court hearings after two years of constant denegations and what would be the modalities of the urgent thorough review of the electoral failings demanded even by the declared winner of the recount, Ivan Collendavelloo.

The PM in a Tuesday impromptu comment said that allegations of a rigged election were far-fetched and if he indeed believes that to be the case, he could consider some all-party conference or round-table, if not a commission of inquiry, so as to propose revamping of this fundamental tenet of our democracy, general elections, and strengthen the foolproof manner in which they should unambiguously be conducted and supervised.

* * *

The new Dhruv copter

During the fateful drift of MV Wakashio towards our Pointe d’Esny coral reefs, it will be recalled that neither our coastline radars, nor any of our maritime detection and monitoring mechanisms, nor the National Coast Guard (NCG), were of any effectiveness, some under routine maintenance, others berthed and awaiting instructions from higher quarters.

The court of investigation appointed in Aug 2020 has recommended charges against the ship captain and his second, who having served their terms have left our shores.

Writing in February last year, we asked: “Were the considerable resources (some seven vessels in the harbour, the Dornier aircraft and the helicopters based in Plaisance airport) under the NCG command paralyzed or awaiting instructions that never came or came too late?” We also do not feel that the Court has yet completed this side of its main mandate, which we reproduce here:

i To investigate into, and report on, the circumstances leading to the grounding of MV Wakashio off the coast of Pointe d’Esny on 25 July 2020 and breach of hull of the said vessel, including whether in regard to the shipping casualty that occurred on 25 July 2020 involving MV Wakashio, the standard practice and procedures for the tracking and monitoring of vessels in our territorial waters have been followed.

Meantime we understand that Minister Anwar Husnoo may now be in possession of a port-mortem report identifying key measures and recommendations to strengthen such notorious failures so close to our coastline, at a time when it should be noted, we rightfully claiming the ability to patrol and safeguard millions of sq kms of our maritime economic zone.

That report, if indeed there is one, should be made widely available for informed public input by all those concerned that our best facilities, resources, chain of command and trained manpower are in a state of professional vigilance to avoid any future recurrence of what was, at best amateurism, at worst, gross incompetence.

Meantime it has been announced last week that the PM has proceeded with the direct purchase of a more sophisticated variant of the Dhruv from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), probably the well-equipped marine version, Mark III. From local press reports this would burden us by some Rs 1.2 billion although the same copter has recently been made available to the Philippines at some US$ 18m (closer to Rs600), and we expect the PMO to clarify specifications and actual payment agreed.

Notwithstanding such necessary clarification, we all hope that it won’t be caught napping on the airport tarmac for maintenance or administrative malfunctions should we need its considerable monitoring and sea rescue capacities in a future unwelcome emergency.

* Published in print edition on 4 February 2022

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