Good sense like the Kaieteur Falls

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The news coming out of Guyana was disheartening. Indeed, it was downright alarming. Seemed, some political geniuses thought it was a good idea to ignore the will of the people by short-circuiting the counting of the votes in Region Four. Sigh! Whatever happened to the sacred democratic principle that elections should be free and fair, and free from fear, and such freeness and fairness ought to be seen to be done? In the case of last Monday’s (March 2, 2020) general and regional elections in GT, the affectionate name for Guyana, fairness was not visible. Au contraire, the counting of the ballots in Region Four, followed by its abrupt cessation, was shrouded in mystery.

This lack of transparency, and what one local paper referred to as the “election hijacking,” wasdisconcerting,because it appeared that a party was prepared to hold on to power “by any means necessary,”be it ever so clumsy. Of course, the people were having none of it, and they made their disgust known. Then this past Saturday, the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) turned to the High Court seeking an injunction against the Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) unilateral declaration of President David Granger’s Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change coalition (PNU/AFC), the winner in Region Four.

 Not surprisingly, a number of observer groups had expressed dissatisfaction with the shenanigans in Region Four, and they too called for a redress. Here’s what the Carter Center had to say. Mind you, the Carter Center, founded by, and named for former President Jimmy Carter in 1980, is arguably the most respected election observer group in the world. They have been observing elections for decades. Anyway, here was their take on the Guyana elections: “The Carter Center is deeply concerned about the events that took place today (March 5, 2020) at the Office of the Returning Officer for Region 4, and the decision to announce results that had not been verified.
Up until today, the electoral process has been a remarkably transparent one with well-administered procedures on election day that provided an opportunity for the Guyanese people to express their will. Today, however, the tabulation process that had been taking place in Region 4 was circumvented, critically undermining transparency and preventing international observers and political parties from observing tabulation. As a result, the election results released today for Region 4 are not credible. … The Carter Center encourages a return to the transparent verification procedures that had been in place, including the processing of Region 4 Statements of Poll and the parallel verification process conducted by the CEO. All parties contesting the election deserve a process that is credible and transparent and conducted according to established procedures and applicable law. Whoever wins the election has an interest in ensuring that their victory is seen as credible.”

It is so very sad that the election had to come down to this –  a manifestly brazen attempt to corrupt the process and thwart the will of the people. No wonder we heard reports of at least one canefield fire, riots, and other acts of civil disobedience and protest. There was serious frustration, and in that sort of volatility, anything could have happened. Actually, we heard of the death of one person, a young man named Seedat Devon Hansraj, and many others who were injured in the post-election unrest. This is not good! The Guyanese people, those in and out of uniform, will have to refrain from wanton acts of violence while the recount of the ballots in Region Four is conducted. In case you hadn’t heard, the High Court issued a ruling yesterday afternoon nullifying GECOM’s high-handed declaration of the incumbent as the winner in Region Four.

In the meantime, we urge all concerned to exercise the utmost restraint. Here’s what the head of CARICOM, Constance Mia Mottley, had to say on the Guyana conundrum: “The Caribbean Community calls on the electoral officials in Guyana and the representative political parties to work together to achieve a peaceful and lawful completion of the electoral process in Guyana by ensuring the tabulation of the results in all Regions using the Statement of Polls in a transparent manner in the presence of the representatives of the political parties and the electoral observers. . . . We are very clear, every vote must be made to count; and transparently so.  . . . In simple language, we ask the parties to recognise that the primary consideration must not only be who will be President but, moreso, who will be alive come next week or next month, for there cannot be a tolerance for any further loss of life. . . . We are family, and this is what happens when there are disputes in families. We will work together to create the space for dialogue and resolution once there is an acceptance of the part of all parties that there is a higher interest beyond simply the result in this election.” Sigh!

Seemed, just when we thought it was safe to exhale, (the casting of votes and the early counting appeared to be running smoothly) all hell broke loose, thanks to foolishness by GECOM. But then, perhaps we should have known better. After all, Guyana is a land deeply divided against itself. Who can forget the bitter political struggles between Forbes Burnham and Dr. Cheddi Jagan? Who can forget the assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney in 1980, allegedly by operatives with orders from on high? And what about the huge racial divide between Indo-Guyanese (39.8% of the population) and those of African descent (29.3%)? It is a tragedy that a country officially known as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, has seen so little of the people coming together for the common good. Just look at the defection of a lawmaker from Granger’s ruling coalition in December of 2018. It was symptomatic of the strivings and divisions in Guyana, and the inevitable jockeying for power in a country that will soon be writing its own ‘rags-to-riches’ story, by virtue of the newly-discovered billions of barrels of ‘Black Gold’ reserves. Again, here’s praying that this post-election drama can be quickly and amicably resolved.  No magnifying glasses and ‘hanging chads,’‘fat chads,’ and ‘pregnant chads’ as per the recount fiasco in Florida during the 2000 presidential election fight between George Bush and Al Gore. None of that mind-reading nonsense by election officials trying to determine what each voter really meant. Let good sense run down like the mighty Kaieteur Falls, and fair play and honesty like the Berbice and Demerara rivers. As such, the people (patience during the recount), and the GECOM officials (doing the right thing without favour) must call upon their better angels.  Remember folks, Guyana is one of the founding members of CARICOM – built on the idea of people coming together. Guyana also gave us CARIFESTA, born out of a culture and arts festival in Puerto Rico, as well as the ideas of writers like George Lamming and Vidia Naipaul, in 1972. The idea was to celebrate our rich culture, our commonality notwithstanding our peculiarities, and the notion that we should all come together. (See the West Indies Federation and Carifta). In the midst of this election mess, may Guyana live up to its motto, “One people, one nation, one destiny.” No point in “burning the country down to rule over its ashes.”

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