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Only last week I argued that we should pay particular attention to the ‘substantive’ and ‘procedural’ elements of decisions, and here we have the same issue again. Be it for different reasons, both the government and the opposition claim that they are in favour of electoral reforms. In a liberal democracy, if for no other reason than that elections are the process that brings governments to office or causes them to lose it, electoral reforms cannot legitimately be the business of the government alone. But the PPP/C government has unilaterally collaborated with the United States Embassy and proceeded to employ the International Republican Institute (IRI), to lead the reform process. According to the resident coordinator of the project, ‘The Institute is committed to working with all stakeholders in a participatory, inclusive, and transparent manner towards strengthening political and electoral processes in Guyana.’ According to the US Embassy, ‘Through this project, GECOM (Guyana Elections Commission), the Attorney General’s Chambers, and Guyanese CSOs (civil society organisations) will collaboratively consolidate and improve local electoral and constitutional law knowledge, establish an internal timeline to address electoral reform, improve collaboration for joint advocacy actions, and prioritize electoral and constitutional law issues while promoting reform through citizen engagement.’
All this sounds quite innocent, but as the struggle in the United States to install judges of one’s political orientation in the Supreme Court indicates, the ideological orientation of the organisations or persons chosen to lead this kind of project is of major importance and so one asks, who is the IRI? It is purportedly a non-partisan organization founded in 1982 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan with a mission to ‘advance freedom worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law’ The majority of its board, staff and consultants are said to be drawn from the Republican Party.
Many have argued that the IRI advances republican causes and has been involved in regime change globally. For instance, the Director of the Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy, to whom the IRI made a substantial donation claimed that, ‘Instead of promoting impartial, better understanding of certain ideas and concepts, they are actually trying to further the cause of the Republican administration.’ It is said that Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was re-elected as president of Haiti by a landslide in 2000 was ousted by a 2004 coup in which the IRI was involved. ‘The main IRI project in Haiti involved the overthrow of the country’s democratically-elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004’ ( https://www.coha.org/a-hidden-agenda-john-mccain-and-the-iri/ ). According to the New York Times, the US Ambassador at the time accused the IRI ‘of trying to undermine the reconciliation process after disputed 2000 Senate elections threw Haiti into a violent political crisis. The group’s leader in Haiti, … an avowed Aristide opponent from the Haitian elite, counseled the opposition to stand firm, and not work with Mr. Aristide, as a way to cripple his government and drive him from power.’
Now the opposition is up in arms. It holds that the last Republican government in the United States was involved in regime change in Guyana and although the IRI has had a lengthy relationship with Guyana, it was refused re-entrance by the then government and now opposition, to observe the Caricom-sponsored recount of the 2020 elections. The PPP/C in collaboration with the US Embassy has gone ahead with the substantive task of employing persons to lead the reform process, leaving the Guyanese people with only procedural responsibility of determining how the project is done.
We are told that the reform project is to follow international best practices. According to which international standard was the US Embassy adhering when it employed the IRI to lead an electoral reform project that will affect all Guyanese with only the involvement of a government with a one seat majority in a deeply ethnically divided society? This is even more absurd when we consider that the opposition and its supporters, nearly half of the country, believe that the Embassy and the IRI were recently involved in regime change in Guyana!