-as staff warned to ensure smooth running of polling stations Training of Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) instructors got underway on Saturday with Chairman James Patterson stressing the importance of instructors maintaining their professionalism and ensuring that their wards understand the importance of “free and fair” elections.GECOM has been entwined in Elections Day controversies before, and on Saturday, at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), Patterson was firm in his instructions to the instructors. He made it clear that the elections would count for nought if they are not declared free and fair.“I have discovered, since they declared me to be chairman of the outfit, what an important part GECOM plays in the public forum of this country,” Patterson informed the gathering. “I think the Commission anywhere takes the part even of the politicians, because we endure not only to see elections go smoothly, but we are here all the time. Politicians go and come at the beck and call of the electorate. One of the qualities that should permeate GECOM and those who function in it is that you have to see that elections are run free and fair. My template for that is India. Don’t have time to go through all of it, but they have thousands of polling places. They have gone through metamorphosis of change, and India has been declared to be the largest democracy in the world. I hope GECOM will put an end to that (being seen as crooked), in terms of position.”Chairman Patterson reminded the gathered staff that they are essentially running the elections. He urged the workers to put all their effort into learning the election procedures being taught.“Do you realise that elections are of no avail if they are not declared to be free and fair?” Patterson questioned. “Although we are in our infancy as an independent country, we aren’t doing too (badly). I mean to say that democracy and free and fair elections are like conjoined twins; you cannot have one without the other.”The training is expected to last for two days, during which trainers will endeavour to cover polling day protocol, among other things. GECOM has been allocated over $2 billion in order to hold Local Government Elections (LGE), which are due in a matter of months.GECOM’s handling of previous elections has been criticised by the now Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP). In fact, because of concerns over electoral irregularities, that party filed an elections petition in June of 2015, little over a month after General and Regional Elections had been held.The petition challenges the validity of the outcome of the 2015 General and Regional Elections. Following the outcome of the May 2015 elections, the PPP underscored that the elections were not held in conformity with the Constitution of Guyana.The matter, filed in the name of PPP/C Parliamentarian Ganga Persaud, essentially requests a recount of all ballots cast for the last elections, and calls for fresh elections to be held. Persaud has claimed that the elections were “unlawfully conducted”, and that the results of the elections were affected.Persaud has cited procedural errors and instances of fraudulent and/or suspicious actions during the elections. Unrest, fake statements of poll (SOPs) and multiple voting were among the reasons behind the petition. Further, the presence of “huge mobs” at several polling stations and other strategic places, particularly in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), were also cited by Persaud as other causes for intimidation and fear.The PPP had exceptionally good results from the last LGE in 2016, winning the popular vote and dominating the vote count in rural areas. But this time around, the party has been crying foul over the one-sided manner in which appointments within GECOM are being made in the run up to the elections.While Patterson and the Government commissioners have denied contentions that they skewed hiring practices in favour of one ethnic group, concerns over the ethnic balance within GECOM headquarters have seen the party make complaints to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC).