The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the General and Regional Elections of Guyana on 2 March 2020 is the first of its kind, despite the fact that the first rigged general elections in Guyana occurred in 1968, some 55 years ago. It found that the Chief Election Officer (CEO) first disenfranchised 275,092 voters for the PPP by unilateral nullification. In a second report he disqualified “another 115,884 persons.” It concluded: “The idea that the CEO or GECOM could, in an unaccountable, non-transparent and seemingly arbitrary manner, without the due processes and the legal standards established in Article 163 and in the Validation Act, disenfranchise scores of thousands of electors is entirely inconsistent with the constitutional framework.” The Inquiry found that the actions of the CEO “were a brazen attempt to prevent GECOM from declaring the true results of the elections of 2 June 2020.” There are many more findings in the Report confirming the attempts to manipulate the elections. The conduct of the Deputy CEO, Roxanne Myers, and Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo, were examined.
There had been no shortage of credible reports of the rigging of elections in 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985, as well as the referendum of 1978. But this is the first officially sanctioned report issued by a panel with high judicial credibility. The PNC/APNU has, since 1992, transformed the concept of rigging into a charged weapon of equivalence against the PPP. Before the elections of 1992 were concluded, the office of the Elections Commission in Croal Street was trashed by a large pro-PNC mob on the ground of rigging the elections by omitting voters from the electoral list which was prepared under the PNC government. As in 1992 every election thereafter was the subject of accusations of rigging, followed by anti-Indian violence in 1992, 1997 and 2001, even though reputable international observers confirmed the credibility of all elections since 1992, except those in 2020 over which APNU+AFC presided. Among the participants in those elections on the side of APNU+AFC were Khemraj Ramjattan and Moses Nagamootoo, victims and opponents of PNC rigging while they served in the highest positions in the PPP.
Unable to shed its historic baggage in the modern age, and adapt to modern conditions, APNU reverted to form in 2020 in a completely transformed national and international environment. Its leadership had to contend with thirty years of innovative developments of the electoral system to deter rigging. The old methods, such as secretively removing the bottoms of the wooden ballot boxes which were nailed together and adding or subtracting fraudulent ballots were no longer possible. So, what did the manipulators do? They violated the law by abandoning the counting for Region 4 from the Statements of Poll and injected fraudulent votes into spreadsheets which replaced the Statements of Poll. When this was blocked by the court, the counting was transferred to GECOM’s office at Kingston and the figures from the Statements of Poll projected on a billowing sheet and were barely visible.
In the current era the judiciary had become free from governmental interference or influence. Its independence had been strengthened by the accession of Guyana to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Where Guyana’s courts faltered, the jurisdiction of the CCJ was invariably invoked and on each occasion upheld the rule of law. From the rejection of the argument that 34 is the majority of 65, to defining a “valid” vote as one accepted by the presiding officer, rather than one so declared by an APNU official at the recount, the CCJ stepped in at critical moments to reject the riggers.
Just as APNU did not understand that the judicial landscape had been transformed, it failed to take cognizance that the international conditions that allowed rigging during the Cold War to go unchallenged, no longer existed. Although the international community adopted a neutral posture in the electoral contest, it was probably sympathetic to a second term for APNU+AFC. But it could not allow the establishment of a dictatorship in Guyana, in the absence of Western patronage, with untold billions of barrels of oil in the offshore Atlantic, being claimed by Venezuela, and being exploited by ExxonMobil. APNU+AFC also did not recognize that the Caribbean and its leadership had changed. With a younger and more modern leadership, impervious to ethnic loyalties and Cold War tropes, the deportation of two Russians by Home Affairs Minister Ramjattan, impressed no one.
The APNU+AFC has now unraveled. A “dead meat” AFC has departed or will soon do so. But it is too late for the AFC. And they have spoiled it for all third parties. The attempt to rig the elections has resulted in the crushing of the leadership or retired army officers and their allies installed by David Granger in his attempt to create an APNU in his image. What has taken over is a rump of the younger leadership, led by older heads still flailing at ethnic demons like the demented Don Quixote, laying the groundwork for the next public beating of Indians, all the while unable to capture the necessity of the moment – the equitable distribution of the benefits from the oil income to all working and disadvantaged Guyanese.