General Elections in the air – Are we ready?
More than three months have elapsed since the Guyanese electorate exercised its democratic right to vote for a government of the people’s choice. Amazingly, the voters of Guyana are still awaiting an official announcement of the winner of that poll.
Even more amazingly, the rest of the Caribbean Community, who loudly profess their abiding commitment to democratic principles, has hardly batted an eyelid.
After countless shenanigans, embarked upon since the counting and tabulation of votes on election night, skirmishes in court and a full recount of all votes cast, there is still no official declaration of the winner. According to the recount, conducted under the scrutiny of foreign observers, the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Civic, Guyana’s oldest party, polled the most votes, but the Electoral Commission is yet to officially sanction this result.
To add to the confusion, outgoing President David Granger, who had publicly vowed to abide by the result of the recount, appears now to be backtracking on the commitment given and continues to govern as Interim President. What lies ahead for Guyana where CARICOM has its headquarters? What implications are there for the Guyanese people and their brothers and sisters in the rest of the region?
Guyana itself has travelled a rocky and at times bloody road where elections are concerned. From the time that the USA and UK intervened to split the nationalist movement in the sixties, Guyanese politics have been scarred by racial divisions and marred by electoral fraud. It took almost 30 years before some element of respectability and credibility was restored in 1992. We seem to be heading back to the dark days once again.
Worryingly for the region, there are several general elections likely to be held in the next few months, COVID-19 permitting. These include Trinidad and Tobago, which like Guyana has a history of race-based politics; Jamaica with a chequered past
of electoral violence; neighbouring St Lucia and our own country. In every one of them there are potentially smouldering powder-kegs.
Already there are reports from St Kitts that the losing party in last week’s general elections is refusing to accept the results. Here in SVG, with elections on our doorstep, the 2015 results are still a bone of contention as far as the Opposition is concerned with unresolved issues before the courts. It will be the responsibility of the electorate to make a decisive ruling at the next opportunity.
All of this points to the fundamentals of our electoral and political systems which determine how elections are fought and the influence of politics on the electoral contest. The Prime Minister has just opened the door for the establishment of a Constituencies Boundaries Commission under the provisions of Section 33(3) of the Constitution. He may well be opening a Pandora’s Box.
Whatever the composition of the Commission, (one person chosen by the Governor General independently, and one each on the advice of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition), there is bound to be contention over the re-drawing of constituency boundaries.
Then there are issues like registration of voters, the conduct of elections on polling day and significantly the conduct of the campaign itself, including campaign funding. All of these are potential flashpoints which if not handled maturely can dent our democratic record.
We urge both parties to make a genuine and concerted effort to address these matters in the best interests of our people, peace and democracy, and not to leave room for those prone to resorting to unprincipled behaviour, manipulation of the truth, bribery and even violence, to subvert the will of our people.