The rigging of elections in Guyana has multi-dimensional aspects and in that it represents manifestations of the deepest fissures of our society. The Statements of Poll will never be produced by Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton and nothing the PPP/C Government does to provide an acceptable list of voters will satisfy APNU+AFC. Even if the biometric identity system is adopted, expensive as it is, flaws will be found at some point and at some level to demonstrate that it is being manipulated by the PPP. If removing all the names from the electoral list of persons who have died that are submitted by the Registrar of Births and Deaths, it will be claimed that persons in Guyana will overcome the obstacles of identification and finger staining at the polling station and vote in such large numbers for the PPP as to affect the outcome of the elections. Rigging, attempts to rig and accusations of rigging belie an embedded historical entitlement to political power.
In the meantime, the elephant in the room, that Guyanese residing overseas are entitled to vote and, therefore, entitled to be on the electoral list, has never been addressed by a single individual who speaks and writes about these matters even though I have written about it repeatedly. I have pointed out that it is illegal to extract the electoral list from the registration list because the National Registration Act provides for the registration of residents only. By extracting the electoral list from the registration list Guyanese resident overseas and entitled to vote are deliberately and unlawfully excluded from the list. The Chief Justice ruled that persons cannot be removed from the list except if they have died or are otherwise disqualified. This legal conundrum can only be resolved by legislation. Either open registration under the National Registration Act to non-residents or amend the Constitution to deprive Guyanese resident overseas of the right to vote. I don’t envisage political agreement.
Every election conducted under a PNC or APNU Government has been widely condemned, nationally and internationally, and by the PPP, as being rigged. Every election conducted while the PPP/C was in office has been alleged by the PNC and PNCR to be rigged although widely approved as being free and fair, nationally and internationally. Except that the 2015 elections, conducted while the PPP/C has been in office, is alleged by the PPP to be rigged. This would obviously appear to be weird to a disinterested observer, but Guyanese understand that, at the most fundamental level, neither of the major ethnic groups and their allies, accept the right of the other to govern them, or have deep fears.
By now, most people who have considered these matters, have concluded that it is the manner in which our society has been constructed, starting from the nineteenth century, the introduction of a substantial element of left orientation in our politics, the intervention of Cold War manipulations, and their outcomes from the early 1960s to the early 1990s, have entrenched the suspicions, instabilities, insensitivities and intractabilities of our current conditions. These are peculiar to Guyana because Trinidad and Tobago, our historical parallel, has not travelled the same path as Guyana. Of course, its petroleum industry helped.
Those of us who are interested in these issues are all floundering in the darkness for a solution. Shared governance is off the table. An approach to utilize constitutional instruments has not only been declined, but criticized on the basis that no such instruments exist, or are worthless. Some say that one section of the population has been so discriminated against, and the other so pampered, that the deprived section may choose to live separately. That was suggested in 1961 as inevitable and a regrettable option without a political solution. Not only did it not have any popular support, but the expected desire never materialised, albeit severe internecine violence, some of it externally manipulated, did occur, and has continued sporadically.
Under severe pressure from transparency and environmental advocates, the Government, clearly embittered by APNU+AFC’s latest attempt to rig the elections, appears to envision that in the short term, and moreso in the medium and long term, economic development will create a rising tide that will life all boats. And even if APNU+AFC supporters do not support it politically, it will share in the benefits of the oil economy and reduce hostility and opposition.
There is, however, a problem, or rather, a dilemma. The African-Guyanese population, swayed by or reflected of political opinion, believes that the Indian-dominated PPP/C Government discriminates against them. This belief is impervious to facts, evidence or argument. It is rooted in history. Therefore, jobs, offices, positions, housing, education, health facilities, more jobs and other benefits, unless accompanied by some political power, will not suffice.
In our context, where Indian Guyanese feel insecure without political power, the only resolution is that each should have a seat at the table. Unfortunately, for the present, both want all the seats, permanently. APNU+AFC ‘s current political posture suggests that if only it can prevent the PPP from rigging elections, it will be able to return to political power. It has maintained this posture since 1992, giving false hope to and creating frustration among its supporters.