Guyanese will vote on Monday for a Government that they wish to conduct the affairs of the nation on their behalf for the next five years. Every registered Guyanese has the right to vote and this right must be protected and respected before and after it is exercised. If the majority of Guyanese collectively choose to return the PPP/C to office, despite the great disappointment this will cause among APNU+AFC supporters, this choice must be accepted peacefully. If Guyanese decide to change their Government and support the APNU+AFC coalition, whatever trepidation PPP/C supporters may feel, their Party having been in power for 22 plus years, Guyanese must equally accept the results peacefully.
Notwithstanding the criticisms that have been made of GECOM over the past few months, it is well positioned to deliver free and fair elections, as it has done since 1992. Criticisms of one kind or another have been made at every election time but foreign observers have unanimously, since 1992, confirmed that elections have been free and fair. Their presence, that of President Jimmy Carter, an enduring friend of Guyana, along with local observers, at these elections is welcome and lends confidence to a process that has been under suspicion only because of historical reasons.
Political parties struggle for every vote and it is reasonable to expect criticisms that are targeted to improving the process. But allegations of the rigging of past elections and plans by the Police to arrest many people so that the results can be affected, which means several thousands of people, show how ridiculous these complaints can become. Ridiculous though many of them are, they tend to inflame passions.
Since every major operation, such as managing elections, will always be a work in progress, it is hoped that GECOM has taken serious concerns on board and done something about them. Dispassionate observers may conclude that problems raised by political parties are either not so serious as to be likely to affect the overall results or are not credible. However, such complaints severely agitate supporters of political parties whose conclusions tend not to be as dispassionate as observers. It is hoped that political parties will exercise some discretion in post-election complaints having regard to our history of credible elections since 1992.
To assist in the maintenance of calm, egregious behaviour by elections staff, which do occur, must not be tolerated by GECOM. It must be known that Presiding Officers will be held accountable for their conduct after the elections are over, if complaints are made against them or if the counting process reveals acts or omissions inconsistent with the fair performance of their duties.
There must be no post-election violence for any reason whatsoever, including for any allegations that any political party is trying to ‘frustrate the process.’ No such attempt has been made since 1992 and no basis exists to suggest that any such attempt will now be made. Any political party that is guilty of irresponsible behavior, making unprovable or ridiculous allegations for the purpose of excusing violence, or of failing to restrain its supporters, does not deserve sympathy.
The election results must be accepted because political leaders know that unless there is a total breakdown of the GECOM’s systems that are in place, which has never occurred since 1992, the outcome of the elections will be a true reflection of the will of the electorate. GECOM, the electoral process and the elections, must be given the respect they deserve because they have stood the test of time, have earned our respect, and GECOM has grown from strength to strength. Problems do arise but these are few and scattered. There is therefore no excuse for violence.
Elections in Guyana have been made to appear as ethnic, zero sum, events. Because ethnic interests are expressed through organized political allegiances, many believe that our elections are a competition for ethnic dominance and that results reflect a win or loss for an entire ethnic group. But somehow or other, after the elections are over and passions subside, we go about our business in a largely peaceful atmosphere, work and contribute to our country in multifarious ways, or struggle to make ends meet, and survive until the next elections.
In about 1970 a British journalist, Bernard Levin, in a television interview, predicted the fall of both apartheid in a few years and of the Soviet Union in ten years. These governments and systems appeared to be on rock solid foundations. I thought that Bernard Levin was from a different planet. But he was right except that his timing was off. But these systems were in place for long periods.
Guyanese have learnt from experience that political change is slow but that it happens. It can also happen unexpectedly, as in South Africa and the Soviet Union. Whoever wins these elections, in the next ten years, barring the unexpected which is always possible in politics as in the UK last week, Guyana will undergo transformative political changes. Cheddi Jagan has taught us that success at politics requires, among other things, the application two basic principles – patience and persistence. The Opposition alliance, APNU+AFC, has taken to referencing Cheddi Jagan in its campaign. Both the PPP and APNU+AFC should heed his lesson