Notwithstanding the controversies that have bedeviled the processes leading up to local government elections, it appears as if Guyana will have a date with local democracy on June 12. While local government elections are carefully watched by those interested in public affairs, including the media, the voting public has generally yawned at the prospect. In Guyana and elsewhere the turnout is generally in the vicinity of just above 30 percent. This being the case, the most that can be said about the results is that they indicate a trend. The 61 percent vote for the PPP and 34 percent for APNU on a 36 percent turnout in 2018 merely indicated a trend for national election results. The PPP won and APNU lost, but each by a hair’s breadth, and only after a monumental struggle against election rigging.
APNU is still licking its wounds. Devastated by the consequences of its actions, a minority of supporters turned out to vote for a new leader, who was not anointed by his predecessor, but whose forthright postures signified a departure from the dignified suavity of the previous incumbents, discounting for the moment the condemnation by Desmond Hoyte of the ‘putagee mafia.’ There is no visible evidence that the new leader has been able to drive a resurgence of APNU’s militancy. At the same time, the coalition with the AFC has come to an end. But the AFC, despite its experiences of having achieved the status of ‘dead meat,’ has charted no new course, demonstrated no dramatic new initiatives. As the old people say, ‘breeze can’t pass between them,’ that is, between APNU and the AFC. The AFC could have still had a future; and there were, and still are, opportunities for it to delineate an independent path and recapture some lost glory. But it clearly prefers the death of a thousand cuts to the life of a disabled veteran.
After APNU’s poor performance on the economy and the sensational attempt to rig the elections in 2020, the PPP had a modest resurgence. Its expectation now is to benefit from the oil income which has opened up a new and exciting phase in Guyana’s development. But poverty, a stubborn enemy, remains a problem in the villages which may dampen the motivation to turn out and vote. The sugar industry has been severely damaged. Major infrastructure and building projects are not directly benefiting villages. Many old and new businesspeople are setting up shop and making, or will make, lots of money, but not in the villages. Apart from small scale, cash crop, farming and seasonal employment in the rice and sugar industries, there are no jobs. And villagers cannot afford to travel to the places where good paying jobs are available.
While there is evidence of some scattered consultations in villages, there is no evidence of adequate budgetary allocations to take into consideration the transformation of villages into self-sustaining economic units or incentives to business to locate operations in areas that will directly benefit village development. Highways are being built but not enough farm to market roads. The PPP has a culture and the necessary organizational skills and mechanisms to undertake annual, nationwide, pre-budgetary, village consultations, aided by a local government ministry, to involve and motivate villagers and quicken the pace of village development. These are the issues that need the attention.
The PPP naturally expects to do well at the elections. But the margin of victory at the local government elections, which is again likely to be high would, as in 2018, will be no indication or either a victory or the size of a victory at the general elections. For the general elections the stakes are higher. The World Justice Project has announced that 69 percent of the population believe that politicians are corrupt. Controversies expressed in confrontational language over matters of national consequence have returned, or are returning, to the decibel levels they had attained in the years leading up to the 2011 general elections and during the period 2015 to 2020. The return of discourtesy to political and national debates on issues of consequence may all have a negative impact on those voters who need an incentive to turn out to vote and who are put off by the belief that corruption is pervasive and lack of courtesy in public discourse. Denials do not relieve the disquiet.
There are good reasons why discourtesy dominates our political discourse. The ‘cuss them up’ culture motivates the base. But the base would still be motivated if the loud talk in spicy language is minimized and constructive tones occupy some space. A balance to satisfy the base and encourage crossovers would help both political parties both at the local and national elections. But there is a suspicion that all this is falling on deaf ears.
Local government elections are important to renew local democracy and much work remains to be done to improve management skills at both the regional and local levels, reduce corruption and improve conditions to facilitate economic development. Let us hope that after the politicking is over that serious attention is paid by both political parties to the serious work that is needed to develop local communities.