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There has been a lot of talk about democracy in Guyana in recent times. In fact, those who supported the transfer of power to the PPP against the backdrop of the inconclusive 2020 election have defended their decision as an act of saving democracy. I have firmly disagreed with that formulation. In fact, it is my considered view that the 2020 election has served to retard Guyana’s transition from a colonial dictatorship to an ethnically plural democracy. And yes, we have never been a democracy in a genuine sense. We have had periodic elections, but the winners have generally not been recognized by the losers. Hence our governments have lacked democratic legitimacy. We have maintained institutions, but these have not enhanced our democratic profile. Put bluntly, the colonial authoritarian State has prevailed in Guyana .
So, one asks—what democracy was saved last year? It is a figment of the advocates’ imagination. Last year’s election reflects everything that is wrong with our politics, political architecture and political culture. As far as elections are concerned, it had all the ingredients of an undemocratic contest from beginning to end. To talk about a democratic outcome in an election with an over bloated voters’ list is utter dishonesty. And of course, the various anomalies unearthed by the Recount are as plain to see as a bright and sunny day. That GECOM and the courts ignored them make a mockery of democracy.
If we agree that the election was democratic then we have a case of a democratic election throwing up an autocratic outcome. One of my friends who supported the thesis of the democratic election but who has since criticized the government’s excesses disagreed with my observation that there is tyranny in Guyana. At first, I was puzzled by his opposition, but I quickly realized that he was being consistent. You surely cannot talk about a democratic election and tyrannical government in the same breath. This is the dilemma for the “democrats” of 2020.
Look, the PPP government is governing in the most dictatorial manner. It has to. The government is the outcome of a disputed election and so it lacks legitimacy. It is governing a very ethnically divided society where there is little agreement on anything. Each side withholds legitimacy of the government of the other side. So, there is no overriding democratic ethos. The Majoritarian democratic construct is at odds with the needs of our plural society. It is therefore very easy and convenient to use a slim majority to intimidate State intuitions to institute ethnic discriminatory policies in the name of democracy.
If a government lacks legitimacy, it has to coerce it. Hence the PPP’s constant open discrimination against the opposition’s constituency and persecution of their leaders. The misuse of the police to hound opposition leaders is meant to induce fear as a means of coercing recognition of the government. It is no secret that the government craves recognition– with that recognition comes legitimacy. It is therefore not satisfied with covert recognition; it wants overt recognition. And it is prepared to use the coercive arm of State to beat it out of the opposition, no matter the consequences. And it does not fear retaliation from external or internal forces. It is clear that the PPP has ceded control of the oil sector to external forces in exchange for their free hand to govern dictatorially on the domestic front. And it is equally clear that it has nothing but contempt for the formal opposition.
There is nothing democratic about the above. Does democracy mean using the slimmest of margins in the National Assembly to push through legislation aimed at concentrating power in the hands of the ruling party and simultaneously disempowering the opposition? Does democracy mean distributing the nation’s resources in the most discriminatory manner? Does democracy mean passing laws aimed at summarily imprisoning opposition leaders? Does democracy mean dismantling checks on access to the country’s oil and gas patrimony and replacing them with councils comprising solely party functionaries?
The so-called democracy that was preserved in 2020 has led to a dictatorship. One ethnic group lives with means and hope while the other lives in want and fear. This is not a democracy. If democracy according to Sir Arthur Lewis means that all those who are affected by decisions should be at the table to help make them, then we are not a democracy. If they insist that Guyana is a democracy, then it’s a democracy for half of the electorate. After all didn’t democracy exist with Segregation in the USA and Apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia?