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One of the terms that has been used a lot in recent public discussions and debates is democracy. Since the last general and regional elections Guyana has been described as a “democracy,” especially by members of the ruling party. It is often said that the rise to power of the PPP in 1992 marked the “return of democracy” and that this “democracy” was rescued with the return of that party to power in 2020. At first glance, these formulations may appear as general statements that are aimed at explaining political developments in Guyana for those not familiar with the country’s historical evolution. But a deeper reading reveals something much more sinister—a partisan attempt to construct narratives that mask the PPP’s intent to dominate Guyana’s political, economic and cultural spaces .
There are two general definitions of democracy. The first definition associated with Western European and American theorists demine democracy in “formal” and “institutional” terms. These include the holding of periodic elections, the existence of functioning intuitions, the principle of representative rule, the rule of law and the principle of majority rule. A second definition referred to as “substantive “ democracy goes beyond the tenets formal democracy to include social and economic equality. Substantive democracy holds that democracy must go beyond forms to include democratic outcomes. Our own Caribbean Scholar, Arthur Lewis, contends that democracy must mean that all those who are affected by decisions must participate in making them. Hence the notion of consensus rather than majoritarian democracy.
Let us now turn to the PPP’s narratives of democracy. In the first place the narrative that 1992 marked the return of democracy is premised on the assumption that democracy existed before the PNC government of 1964-92 took office. In that regard the PPP is arguing that colonialism, which formally ended in 1966, represented a democratic order. Nothing is further from the truth. How can a system premised on imperialism and lack of self-government be a democracy? The PPP knows this, so it is a case of a convenient and opportunistic formulation.
The narrative of the return of democracy in 1992 therefore is the PPP’s crude attempt to draw a distinction between the PNC’s tenure (1964-92) and its tenure from 1992 to 2015. The truth is that if democracy means the opposite of authoritarianism, then both governments do not qualify as democracies. The PPP’s tenure proves the theory that the end of one authoritarian government does not automatically lead to a democratic form of governance. In fact, it could lead to an expanded form of authoritarianism disguised as “democracy” as was the case under the PPP from 1992 to 2015..
In other words, while there was a change of government in 1992, there was not a change of regime. The State under the PPP bore all the characteristics of the one under the previous government, but it took on another defining characteristic. Under the PPP, the State become fused with Non-State actors in the criminal under-world, thus becoming a Narco-State or what Professor Clive Thomas dubbed the “Criminalized State.” A Narco Criminalized State is by no means a democratic State.
The succeeding APNU+AFC government sought to decriminalize the State and introduce a democratic order. In the process it improved the country’s human rights profile and became the first post-colonial government that did not preside over political assassinations and systematic harassment of political elements. While there were political and economic policies that did not lead to democratic outcomes, these were not systematic. In the end the authoritarian order was not dismantled, but the government presided over a break on hyper authoritarian rule.
Now to the narrative that the outcome of the 2020 election marked the rescue of democracy. Again, the assumption is that democracy existed before 2020. Since the PPP could not be crediting the Coalition government with presiding over a democratic order, it is just a case of loose and convenient language. Even if one accepts the PPP’s argument that there was an attempt to rig the election on the part of the Coalition, the formulation reduces democracy to elections and ignores other aspects of democracy.
Further, if one accepts that elections are the element around which other aspects of democracy revolve, it still reduces democratic elections to declared outcomes and ignores undemocratic inputs such as a bloated list, boxes without accompanying statutory documents, unauthorized votes by absentee voters and other anomalies. Based on a slew of infractions unearthed by the Recount and acknowledged by GECOM, the 2020 election was anything but democratic.
Democracy, therefore, is being used as part of the PPP’s Narratives of good over evil and as part of its mask for domination of politics and society. This is a most dangerous ploy for it has the effect of consolidating autocracy in the name of democracy and criminalizing resistance to this autocracy as unlawful attempts at overthrowing the government. It is therefore imperative that counter-narratives be developed.