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For whom the bell polls – 2

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(Note: As we went to press on Wednesday night, the final results of the Guyana election were still pending. The Guyana Elections Commission had released results from 94% of polling stations showing the Opposition coalition in the lead. The Opposition itself was claiming victory while the governing party was seeking a recount. This article presumes the confirmation of the Opposition’s victory.)

The results of the elections in the United Kingdom and Guyana are now known with the former country returning the incumbent right-wing Conservative Party (the Tories) and in Guyana’s case, on the verge of doing the opposite by ending the 23-year old tenure of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in favour of the APNU/AFC coalition. The leader of that coalition, former army head Brigadier David Granger, seems set to succeed Donald Ramotar as Guyana’s new President.{{more}}

The Guyana elections are naturally more immediate to us as Caribbean people and evoked keen interest in countries like ours, not least because our country too is to go to the polls in the upcoming months and there is a long-standing incumbent government as well.

It took two full days after the casting of ballots on Monday of this week before the Guyanese results were made public, with both major parties at times claiming victory, demands for recounts of ballots and even sporadic incidents of violence. At the end of it all, the electoral process was given the stamp of approval by the international observer teams and the Guyanese people can now look forward to a new era of governance.

But the post-election developments have again sullied the reputation of Caribbean democracy. Just as it had happened in St Kitts a couple months ago, three days after the polls, tension was still high with official results not declared. This is inexcusable in a modern world and can only lead to suspicions which in turn inflame passions. Surely we must get our act together and institute meaningful electoral reform.

The election results mark a new turn in Guyana’s chequered political history. The APNU/AFC has been battling the PPP to wrest the reins of power and actually succeeded in winning a majority in the Guyanese parliament in 2011. But Guyana’s constitution differs from most of the Caribbean with an Executive Presidency elected separately. Ramotar had defeated Granger to win the Presidency in the last elections but with the Opposition controlling the Parliament, Ramotar’s government found it very difficult to govern. It had faced an Opposition no-confidence motion but chose to go to the polls instead.

It will be interesting to note how the new government will tackle Guyana’s economic , social and political problems. One major task will be to try and end the racial divide which has plagued Guyanese politics since the Jagan-Burnham split 50 years ago. Racial politics have long dominated voting and political support in Guyana.

Another will be to restore faith in Guyanese democracy, to facilitate greater participation by the people in political life and to provide more space for civil society. Naturally the economy will be one area of concern but, economically-speaking, Guyana has been one of CARICOM’s leading performers.

There is much misunderstanding in the rest of the Caribbean of the Guyanese economy, based on heavy Guyanese migration and the very low exchange rate of the Guyana dollar. But exchange rates by themselves are no indication of a country’s economic health and Guyana is particularly blessed with abundant natural resources, is under-populated, and has tremendous potential to be a regional economic giant. It has long been earmarked as the potential ‘breadbasket’ of the region, even though CARICOM has yet to move in this direction.

The results of the Guyana elections are bound to stir political passions in the rest of the region, particularly in countries where elections are pending. As happens in every such occurrence, all kinds of interpretations will be made. In countries like St Lucia and SVG, opposition parties will use it to herald in an era of change, though circumstances may be vastly different.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Opposition, heavily reliant on the vote of the Afro-Trinidadian minority, will try and find inspiration from a situation where an Indian-based government has been removed and there will be a black President for the first time in almost three decades.

None of these situations is as simple and straightforward as that. As we move closer to the polls, the question is still, “For whom the bell tolls”?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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