Guyana is a democracy. Institutionalized and observed in our law and practice are democracy’s basic elements, namely, free and fair elections, a free press, a legislature which makes laws and monitors the executive and an independent judiciary which rules against the Government from time to time. Hardly anyone will argue that Guyana has a perfect democracy. But the combination of these factors ensures that the rights of citizens are protected or vindicated.
In the most perfect of democracies the State sometimes violates the rights of citizens through its agents, either intentionally or unintentionally or negligently. Where this happens the Courts, which are the guardians of the Constitution, can be asked to intervene. In two recent cases on the constitutional right to freedom of expression challenging the Government’s delay in considering applications for radio licences, the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal separately ruled against the State and granted constitutional relief.
Guyana is no longer a country in which information can be withheld. Where agents of the State brutalizes its citizens who might be too weak to protest, the press finds a way to expose such actions. Public opinion is then brought to bear. There are other agencies such as opposition parties and civil society which play active roles in defending the rights of citizens where institutional mechanisms of the State fail to do so.
These conditions have not always existed. Despite the trauma which preceded the immediate period leading up to independence, it was expected that Guyana would mature into a developed democracy, engaged in a contest for the most appropriate course for economic development. But this did not happen. Guyanese instead had to invest half a century in a massive struggle to beat back the enemies of democracy who over a period destroyed our electoral system, attacked and destroyed the free press, subverted our judiciary and rigged the parliament. Many brave people fought against this. Many suffered and some lost their lives. It is heartwarming to see that due to this sacrifice many of the authors of that era have today been converted into democrats and now lecture to us about misdeeds they perpetrated when the Government.
Seeking a shortcut to political office, subversion of a special kind is now unfolding. Its essential focus is to challenge the legitimacy of the Government in different ways, attempting to create such hopelessness that the ill informed are misled into believing that a resort to violence is a solution to their problems.
Take the issue of democracy. Not a single, credible, opponent of the Government, privately or publicly, would seriously argue that Guyana is a dictatorship of any kind. Yet, with nauseating regularity, the propaganda is advanced that Guyana is a dictatorship. Whether elected or not, the designation ‘dictatorship’ conjures up a State which is illegitimate and which must be removed by any means necessary. This propaganda is pedaled with such pretended seriousness and practiced deception that it feeds the growth of a culture of destructive violence for political ends.
The other ongoing campaign has been to convince a section of the population that they are deliberately being marginalized and deprived of a fair share of the nation’s resources. The fact that those who conduct this campaign are unable to motivate their perceived supporters to join them on the streets testifies to the fact that this campaign is drawing no support. The reason for this is that the people are not convinced that the propaganda is true because the reality of their lives is different. The job market, the health system, the education system, water delivery, housing availability are all improving. The lives of the Guyanese people are on the uptake. Of course, the problems to resolve are still tremendous. There are unacceptable levels of poverty. Unemployment is too high. The electricity situation is appalling. But the overall picture is of a country on the move. And that is why no one is joining the marginalization campaign. And that is why there is now a desperate move to engineer a shortcut to political office.
I wrote a while ago about the patient and painstaking work of the PPP during the period of oppression. In the last free and fair elections before the Great Oppression, 1964, the PPP obtained 47 percent of the vote. It is said, with some justification, that the PPP’s support comes mainly from the Indian Guyanese population. But the census figures show that the Indian Guyanese population has declined since 1964 and is still declining. At the same time the PPP’s vote has increased to over 50 percent and is maintained election after election! How has this been possible? Because of its commitment of the PPP to the welfare of the people of Guyana. This is the reason for the ineffectiveness of the various campaigns against the government.
The current terrorist campaign of violence and destabilization will fail because they have no base, no support and no popular discontent to exploit despite the challenges which the Government and people of Guyana face. They, however, create a tension in the society and fear and uncertainty. This affects our development process and the confidence of investors.
The Government of Guyana must ensure that the perpetrators of the recent violence are brought to justice as early as possible. This, however, would only be possible if the propagators of violence are exposed and the Guyanese people demonstrate their opposition to terrorism.