The PPP/C Government attained political office in circumstances in which the rule of law was under severe stress. The PPP and citizens of Guyana had to rely on the timely intervention of the Caribbean Court of Justice, the United States of America, Canada, Britain, Europe, Caricom, and the intrepid, courageous and resourceful diplomats of these countries resident in Guyana to ensure that democracy prevailed.
From December 2018 when the motion of no confidence was passed in the National Assembly to March 2020 when the elections were held, Guyana’s constitution was egregiously violated by the APNU+AFC Government on the spurious excuse that it was awaiting court decisions. The Cabinet failed to resign. The Government failed to accept its caretaker status. The President abdicated to GECOM his responsibility to fix a date for elections within three months. The APNU+AFC Government stuck its face in the nation and said, ‘duh wha yuh want.”
Two important promises were made by the new government and repeatedly emphasised. After the elections, it said that there will be a commission of inquiry over the events since December 2018. So far nothing has happened, and the events have festered and have become hardened into is the concretised belief among APNU+AFC supporters that the PPP rigged the elections, just as in the United States with Republican supporters who already truly believe that Democrats rigged the presidential elections. In Guyana, APNU+AFC spokespersons have convinced its supporters that the PPP always rigs elections and, unlike the PNC between 1968 and 1985, have gotten away with it since 1992. The maintenance of this fiction of equivalence has been a convenient defence.
The establishment of three vital commissions should have engaged the Government immediately upon its installation – one, on an inquiry into the signing of the contract with ExxonMobil or its subsidiary, the other, for constitutional reform and the last, but most urgent, an inquiry into the post December 2018 evets. We can discount the idea that the first two will even happen, but I will be happy to be proved wrong.
There are those who argue that reconciliation should take precedence, and that the hornets’ nest of political and ethnic disharmony should not be further aggravated by regurgitating unpleasant events of the past. While this must be a concern, we have seen that sweeping election rigging under the carpet has ensured its survival. The last rigged elections were held in 1985. It has reared its ugly head 35 years later, precisely because it was swept under the carpet in the belief that if a policy of “no recrimination” was pursued, as in 1992, election rigging and the enduring hostilities will go away. They have not. Full, complete and credible investigation of all the circumstances of 2018-2020 to find out what happened and expose those responsible is necessary to prevent a repetition.
A commission of inquiry will also give an opportunity to the APNU+AFC to prove its claims of PPP rigging. It hasn’t been able to do so in Esther Perreira for the 1997 elections, and it hasn’t been able to do so in the recent elections’ petitions. In the relaxed rules of evidence of a commission of inquiry, it might be able to prove how the alleged PPP rigging took place. We will get evidence on oath as to how 100,000+ voters from graves rose from the dead and voted, or how overseas residents filled the skies with airplanes, landed without immigrations checks and voted, or had hidden, countrywide, convocations of stained finger washing, to enable people to vote for the dead and migrated. Or, how all the presiding officers and polling agents were PPP agents who facilitated the PPP fraud, bypassing the photographic checks on ID cards and presiding officers’ lists.
Ignoring the events of 2018-2020 will only encourage their recurrence. The APNU+AFC will most likely ignore the inquiry and demonise the members, as it did Caricom prime ministers and resident diplomats and the members of the Walter Rodney Inquiry. But that doesn’t matter. Election rigging has to be exorcised from the Guyana body politic. Sweeping it under the carpet has not worked. Creating a transparent electoral machinery has not worked. And creating new offences with high penalties will not work. All the talk about electoral reform appears to be merely limited to providing jail time for new election offenses, in the mistaken belief that a political problem can be solved by imprisonment. Ways will be found to get around them. They always are. A more effective electoral system will have to await the next generation.
There have been two approaches to the 2020 events by those of us who advocate shared governance. The first was to use the imminent defeat of the APNU+AFC by offering it a place in government. That would have done two things, as the argument goes, namely, end the short-term crisis and achieve a long-term objective. The second was that no political solution in Guyana can be achieved in conditions of a threatened dictatorship. Both the proposals of the PPP and WPA in the late 1970s, were premised on free and fair elections being first held, and then their proposals being implemented. Democracy, not a gun at the head, is a sine qua non for shared governance.