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These days you cannot escape the word legitimacy. It is consistently in your face. The continued trauma from elections 2020 is unrelenting. The populace is certainly not settled. It is my view, those passions must be cooled and answers must be provided through the judicial process which provides the best repository for truth. In the interim, it is worth our time to reflect on words and concepts that have engulfed the political lexicon.
Let me be clear: this column does not wish to concern itself with the run-of-the-mill political noise after elections where the losers invariably shout accusations that seek to poke holes in the legitimacy of an elected government. That is not the remit of this intervention. The business here is with those organic cases where elections were marred with allegations that can withstand the most basic judicial scrutiny. In this regard, the Guyana 2020 elections provide a useful case study that provides an opportunity to reinforce the point: legitimacy is the raison d’etre of democratic governance.
LEGITIMACY AND ELECTIONS
Admittedly, my solitary word on the matter lacks the weight to anchor this big ship, hence, the need for authoritative references. The term legitimacy is derived from the Latin term ‘legitimas’ which means lawful. S.M Upset opined: ‘Legitimacy involves the capacity of the system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are most appropriate for the society’. Max Weber enunciated: legitimacy is based on ‘belief’ and gets obedience from the people. Said Adejumobi, in his article ‘Elections in Africa: A fading shadow of Democracy?’ International Political Science Review, Vol.21,No.1 59-73 at p.60, puts the matter succinctly: ‘Conceptually, elections symbolize popular sovereignty and the expression of the ‘social pact’ between the state and the people which defines the basis of political authority, legitimacy and citizens’ obligations. Renewal in democratic systems usually occurs via elections. Any political system which does not undergo such, will ultimately atrophize and suffer decay. In other words, elections constitute perhaps, the most important element in the conception and practice of liberal democracy’.
This is why we must get right, from the Voters List to the swearing-in of a President. There is too much at stake. Considering all that has been mentioned, it is not difficult to see why, after the disputes over the declarations and the National Recount, there was a need for fresh elections.
THE LACK OF LEGITIMACY AND ITS EFFECTS
Przeworski warned: ‘not the breakdown of legitimacy but the organization of counter-hegemony”. Once there is credible evidence that points to the lack of legitimacy, it gives opposition parties an opportunity to be a thorn in the side of any sitting government. Rightly so. This moral high ground is often gained by disputed elections which cast doubt on the right to rule. As a consequence, the prevalence of illegitimacy spawns a slew of problems that can emerge when attempting to govern. Added to this, legitimacy does not always guarantee development but illegitimacy makes transformative development a complete non-starter. In this, the negative effects of the lack of legitimacy are manifested. For this and other reasons outlined, I am a proud student of the school of thought which argues, to the extent that it was practicable, President Granger was right not to accede to power based on the Region Four declaration. What would have been the worth of governance on that basis? Conversely, any leader of consequence with an iota of regard for the importance of legitimacy, ought to have declined acceding to the Presidency based on the declarations of the National Recount numbers. Once you have those serious issues and earthshattering allegations, legitimacy dies a swift death and concomitantly, democracy suffers a similar fate.
Perhaps, the last thing a government needs in a polarized society is a population that has a valid seed of doubt planted in its collective head over the issue of the government’s legitimacy. Uneasy populations provide fertile grounds for political movements which can rock the foundations of any polity. A cursory glance at history would reveal some cataclysmic events which proceeded from the basis of illegitimacy in the context of elections and democratic politics. They serve as constant reminders of the importance of political credibility. The only way to not exemplify those examples is through credible elections and where there are valid question marks, the state should do anything in its power to satisfy those questions. Legitimacy springs from the organic groundswell of the will of the people which is the raison d’etre of democracy. Governments and leaders must fight like hell for their legitimacy. It is not gained by endorsement by foreign states. It is not achieved by recognition of a government from an Opposition Leader, it must be procured from the organic groundswell of the will of the people.