On this the eve of referendum day all is not as it should be before we vote. Even though less than half, if you include the in-country disenfranchised voters along with those residing abroad, of Belizeans will be allowed to vote, the polls are still indicating that a “No” vote will result. However, given the desperation of the Government and desire of overwhelming external forces to win at any cost, along with the fact that they run things, I would not be overly surprised if at the end of the day a “Yes to the ICJ” outcome is pronounced by the Chief Elections Officer. So how could that happen?
Well, the simple answer is that the referendum electoral process has been designed to make it easy for them to steal the election. They will not only employ the usual buying of votes from the impoverished masses in addition to, as we have seen, obfuscating the issue by making it a political decision, but also they could likely resort to even more insidious means. Lets consider some of these that already have been announced.
The election monitors have been forced to sign an oath of secrecy. The PEACE movement’s request to use pens on the ballots has been unjustifiably denied and those who still persist in using pens have been told that their ballots will not be counted. In addition the counting will be done at each of the over three hundred polling stations and the results of these counts will not be disclosed to the media. Results will instead be submitted to the returning officers who in turn will submit them to the Chief Elections Officer who will tally them and announce the official result for the entire country. So why do the present conditions make us apprehensive for possible election fraud?
Firstly, why were the one hundred and eighty thousand ballots printed for the 10th April referendum publicly burnt? The reason given — that this was to prevent misuse and they had expired— is not the only one possible. Regularly printed ballots can last for years and reprinting is a waste of money. The real reason they were destroyed may have been to prevent a sample from falling into the wrong hands for chemical analysis. Also, if these ballots were chemically altered to perpetrate fraud, then their shelf life may indeed have been limited.
Several legal opinions have been given confirming that there is no valid legal reason why voters cannot use their own pens on the ballots. Additionally, such a denial violates our freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right. The use of pens is allowed in the UK, Australia and many other leading democracies. In my opinion the most probable reason for this stance is that it may foil the disappearance of a pencil mark on a chemically altered ballot.
Also monitors, unlike scrutineers, cannot prevent illegitimate voters from voting. Under the new law only monitors are allowed appointment. Even more sinister, under the new law the referendum result cannot be challenged and it is obvious that the result will only be binding if a “Yes to the ICJ” result is obtained.
Secondly, with monitors sworn to secrecy, how can the veracity of the results transmitted up the chain of command be authenticated? Even if the ballots have not been chemically altered to perpetrate fraud, with government-appointed officials in charge, who is to prevent the keepers of these boxes, behind closed doors, to easily erase the pencil marks and write in their own? They may even have pre-prepared boxes of marked ballots with identical sequence numbers to substitute for the originals if necessary to obtain a “Yes to the ICJ” result. With no one we can trust to watch them, anything is possible.
In my opinion, the only sure way the referendum process can be deemed fair and transparent is if the counting from each polling station is immediately and in the presence of the monitors, made public so that we can all independently confirm the totals. Additionally voters should use their own pens to mark their ballots and it would also be a good idea to record the sequence number on the ballot. If this is done and ballots appears during counting with an ink mark in the “no” box and a pencil mark in the “yes” box, this will confirm the use of chemically modified ballots.
So much injustice has been done by those hell-bent on obtaining a “Yes” outcome regardless of the consequences that we simply cannot trust this Government or their appointees to oversee and execute a fair referendum tomorrow.
Tomorrow is far too important to our future for us to permit election fraud. All in our power must be done to ensure that the referendum outcome is an honest representation of the people’s will. May God save Belize from those determined to destroy our country.