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…WPA, SAGE say any reform must be driven by consensus
Opposition to the USA-based International Republican Institute-led electoral reform project here continues to grow, with the latest rejection coming from the Working People’s Alliance and the Society for African Guyanese Empowerment (SAGE)
In a statement Saturday the WPA said it views the Guyana government’s invitation to the IRI to spearhead electoral reform in Guyana as an affront to the sovereignty of Guyana and the dignity of all Guyanese. The party said six decades after independence, Guyanese should not outsource important projects such as electoral reform to external forces. “Because the electoral architecture is one of the core areas of contention in our fractured society, it is imperative that any reform be driven by consensus among the contending partisan forces,” the WPA said.
In the first place, the party said the decision about how electoral reform should proceed and which external organisation, if any, to consult with should not be determined solely by the government. “WPA is of the firm view that such an important decision should involve consensus between the government and the opposition either in the Parliamentary Constitutional Reform Committee or between the two leaders. In this regard WPA condemns the manner in which the IRI has sought to impose itself on GECOM, a constitutional body.”
“We support the stance taken by the opposition GECOM commissioners that they would not entertain any discussion of the matter unless there is consensus between the government and opposition. For us, that is non-negotiable. WPA wishes to also go on record as saying that even if external experts are contracted, the team should include local and regional consultants who are more familiar with the historical and political dynamics of the country. We reject the notion that the project should be handed over solely to a non-Guyanese organisation. WPA feels strongly the IRI should not be involved in the project for two reasons. First, we think it is an insult to Guyanese political intelligence that an organisation so closely linked to the USA establishment and to one of its major political parties could in the face of what is happening in in their country place themselves as fixers of Guyanese electoral problems. It is well known that in several States in the USA there is a systematic campaign to reduce the right to vote to the point that the Department of Justice is forced to intervene, and the US Congress is considering legislation to stop the onslaught.”
Against that backdrop WPA said it cannot in all conscience welcome the IRI to any level of participation in advancing electoral reform in Guyana. “The objective in Guyana is to expand the right to vote—not reduce it. It is therefore an affront to our dignity as a nation and a contradiction in terms to have an organisation which bears the name of the party that is leading the charge to reduce the right to vote in America to come to our shores to advance the right to vote. We also take this position in solidarity with the African American and progressive communities in the USA who are both victims of the attack on the right to vote and fighters to turn back that process. Guyanese cannot shirk their responsibility to offer solidarity on this issue while at the same time preserving our independence.”
The second reason for rejecting IRI is because the organisation has been accused of partisan activities in some of the countries in which it has operated. Two USA publications, Mother Jones and the New York times accused the IRI as participating in the overthrow of President Aristide in Haiti. This charge was also echoed by the watchdog group, Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) which also accused the organization of carrying out the foreign policy agenda of the Republican party in the USA. COHA also located the IRI as being involved in the campaign of Regime Change in Venezuela. It should be noted that the late Senator John Mc Cain, a foreign policy hawk, was the chair of the IRI for 25 years.
Third, whether these charges are well founded or not, the WPA feels that they are enough reasons for Guyana to be skeptical of the IRI. We also note that the IRI took a partisan position during the impasse that arose from Guyana’s disputed 2020 election. We feel that any organization that took a partisan position on those elections is disqualified from participating in a sensitive exercise like Electoral Reform. WPA respects the right of the government to invite observers to observe elections. But we strenuously reject the right of those observers to meddle and ultimately become entangled in determining the outcome of our elections. The overtly partisan role of observer groups from IRI to CARICOM in the 2020 elections should never be allowed to happen again in Guyana.
Meanwhile, the Society for African Guyanese Empowerment (SAGE) also registered its opposition to what it termed the imposition of the International Republican Institute (IRI) “on our country by the Guyana government. We view this as an attack on the right of a sovereign country to determine its destiny without interference from external forces. This is yet another example of the government’s preparedness to sacrifice national wholeness for narrow consolidation of power. As an independent country we cannot stand back allow external forces to dictate for us what kind of electoral system is best for Guyana,” SAGE said.
“As an African Guyanese-based organisation SAGE finds it difficult to endorse a scheme which is arrived at without prior consultation with the African Guyanese elected leadership. Guyana is a plural society that must be driven by consensus. It is our view that at a minimum the government should have consulted with the political opposition. However, SAGE is not prepared to accept any electoral reform project that is controlled by the IRI. This is an outfit with a dubious record in other countries around the world such as Haiti and Venezuela. Furthermore, the IRI’s role in Guyana’s recent election can hardly be described as non-partisan. Such a compromised outfit cannot deliver a neutral product.”
The organization said ultimately it is the people of Guyana and their representatives who must heal our historical and self-inflicted wounds. “No external force can give a lasting peace to Guyanese. While SAGE fully supports electoral reform and other constitutional reforms, it is not prepared to sanction the outsourcing of this pivotal area of national reconciliation. We are also opposed to any reform of the electoral machinery being overseen or dictated by one side of the political dive. A transparent and credible electoral machinery acceptable by all can only arise out of a process based on consensus.”
Finally, the organization said as was the case with the constitutional reform process of two decades ago, this one must include the widest possible consultation. SAGE stands ready to participate in such consultations. “Ultimately all our ethnic groups must feel a sense of ownership of the anticipated reforms. The IRI cannot be part of the process that throws up that outcome,” the release concluded.