On Friday last President Biden presented the Presidential Citizens Medal to 14 US citizens – policemen and civilians – who resisted attempts to undermine the elections of November, 2009, and resisted the mob that violently stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2020, to overturn the election results. President Biden said that history will “remember your names, remember your courage, remember your bravery.” The Trump Administration, and President Trump himself, had engaged in devious strategies to manufacture votes to ensure a favourable election result. When that failed, efforts were made to select fraudulent delegates to the Electoral College to vote for Trump, notwithstanding the election results. Attempts were also made to pressure Vice President Pence not to declare a result or to declare one in favour of Trump. This is the first time within living memory that the US has faced the prospect of its presidential elections being rigged.
Of the nine policemen who were awarded the Medal, three had died after protecting the Capitol and five were local officials who were subjected to personal violence but resisted pressure to undermine the elections. President Biden said that the individuals being honoured represented “extraordinary Americans” whose service to the country helped thwart the efforts of former President Trump and his allies to keep Mr. Trump in power. Mr. Biden said: “A violent mob of insurrectionists assaulted law enforcement, vandalized sacred halls, hunted down elected officials, all for the purpose of attempting to overthrow the will of the people and usurp the peaceful transfer of power.”
Elections in the US have always been a challenge although not in the form of centralized rigging as was the case in 2019-2020. Manipulation in the US consisted of efforts to prevent African Americans from being registered, and when registered, of placing obstacles in the way of them voting. In the past this benefited conservative Southern Democrats. Today it benefits Republicans. At present, African American constituencies are broken up and integrated as minorities within larger White constituencies so that their votes are diluted. The US Supreme Court has declined to intervene to prevent ‘voter suppression,’ as it is referred to in the US, by weakening the protections offered by the US Voting Rights Act. But rigging has never reached the 2019-2020 level where centrally directed attempts were made to alter the results of a US Presidential election.
Guyana is no stranger to electoral malpractice. The PNC has, ingrained within its DNA, the policy of retaining power by rigged elections. There is probably no other political party in the world that was as resourceful as the PNC in rigging elections. From fictitious names on electoral lists, to overseas voting, to postal voting, to proxy voting, to centralised counting in secret, to army seizures of the ballot boxes, the measures were numerous and innovative, with new ones being deployed at every elections as the old methods were exposed. At each election, the rigging increased so that the votes of the PNC kept going up while the votes of the PPP kept going down. Since DNA is not a matter of choice and cannot be dispensed with, it stormed to the surface in a changed world in 2020 as the PNC sought to rig the elections after a 28-year lapse. Paradoxically, it was the United States Government, under President Trump, that played a key role, along with other countries, including Caricom, in preventing the rigging in 2020 and ensuring that the legitimate election results prevailed.
One of those Caricom leaders who was outspoken during ongoing crisis in Guyana in 2020, when the attempts were in full swing, was Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves. Long a friend of Guyana and a leftist firebrand, now with a more moderate temperament dictated by the holding of political office in a region of dominant US influence, although displaying a striking streak of independence in certain areas, such as his strong support for Venezuela, he visited Guyana during last week. He was awarded the Order of Roraima by President Ali for his contribution to regional development. In his remarks President Ali mentioned the contribution to democracy by Prime Minister Gonsalves. The Government had much to thank the Prime Minister for. His outspoken support for free and fair elections in 2020 was crucial as was his resonating admonition to the APNU+AFC Government to “take your licks like a man.”
The thousands of Guyanese who, since 1968 have fought for free and fair elections, have never been given due recognition by PPP Governments. They were never hailed up and they are hardly remembered today. Many suffered victimization and violence. The defenders of democracy in 2020 were congratulated by President Ali who promised formal recognition by a newly created national award for saving democracy. This was a welcome departure from the view that the PPP, having managed only a trickle of awards in 17 years, believed that Guyanese who had made worthy contributions to Guyana were not deserving of being honoured. But since 2+ years have elapsed since President Ali’s promise, the defenders of democracy who helped to save the 2020 elections, believe that the PPP’s views on national awards are still ingrained, and are not holding their breadth.