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The 2021 Pulse of Democracy in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) survey is not surprisingly being spun in Guyana to suggest that since populations in the region appear to give priority to material concerns and ‘strongman’ rule, the current unstructured and likely discriminatory handouts thrown around by government ‘strongmen’ is in keeping with current political trends and is supported by the populace. While these trends exist they need to be placed in their proper general and individual context, and particularly for Guyana, the authors’ conclusion is appropriate. ‘The public’s commitment to democracy … remains fragile. The public strongly asserts its desire to have a voice in politics but remains skeptical of electoral democracy’s capacity to deliver. Many distrust elections and elected representatives. Doubts regarding democracy’s capacity to operate fairly and effectively likely account for why average levels of support for and satisfaction with democracy remain comparatively low. … For the pulse of democracy to gain strength, citizens in the LAC region will need to see good performance and clean politics from their governments.’
It is somewhat surprising that given the problems the country has faced with democratic governance over the years, to the question: ‘Democracy may have problems, but it is better than any other form of government. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?’, while on average 62% of the population in the Latin America and Caribbean region agree that democracy is preferable to any other form of government, 66% of Guyanese. – 7th of the 20 countries responding – theoretically prefers democracy. Furthermore, despite a recent increase, although satisfaction with democracy remains low – declining from an average of 52% of the population in 2004 to 43% in 2021, in Guyana 55% are satisfied with democracy.
The report noted that the fact that support for democracy remained stable, with satisfaction increasing marginally during COVID in 2021, suggests that the public does not blame democracy for its collective suffering. However, skepticism regarding ‘electoral democracy’ persists as large numbers of citizens disagree that it is the best available political system. ‘When asked to choose between a guaranteed basic standard of living or elections, fewer than half choose the latter.’
With 65%, Guyana is at the top of the list of countries choosing a ‘guaranteed basic standard of living,’ which would be similar to a universal basic income (UBI), over elections, and I for one am not surprised about this choice in Guyana and elsewhere. Democratic elections are simply a means to an end: the ‘good life’, and thus it is not surprising that particularly poor persons choose material security over elections. Of course, the ‘good life’ is impossible if one’s capacity to speak freely is severely curtailed and so in regard to a choice between material security and freedom of speech ‘only a minority in each country is willing to give up freedom of expression for UBI’. That said, Haiti, the poorest country in the region, is the outlier; its people are less willing to sacrifice elections and freedom of expression for guaranteed basic income and services, although they express high levels of dissatisfaction with their democratic system.
UBI has been defined by a World Bank study as an amount sufficient to secure basic needs as a permanent earnings floor that no one can fall beneath, and would replace many of today’s temporary benefits, which are given only in case of emergency, and/or only to those who successfully pass the applied qualification tests. It is a promise of equal opportunity, not equal outcome, a new starting line set above the poverty line. It provides a firm foundation of economic security and positive freedom and could affect your present and future decisions, from the work you choose to the relationships you maintain and to the risks you take. Given the present oil bonanza Guyanese deserves and should have already been receiving a UBI (Future Notes, SN 30/08/2017).
This is not a one off autocratic handout that has become the practice of this government and has already made questionable the legitimacy of any upcoming elections by clearly and brazenly using the public purse to control people and win votes. If true, the report two days ago in the Village Voice that claimed that ‘Minister Edghill says if Georgetown residence wants roads fix they have to vote PPP’ is truly an insult to every other racial group, particularly Africans, and makes clear the claim that the PPP, an ethnic party, is determined to establish ethnic/political dominance, some say apartheid, in Guyana. What is required to fulfill this wish of the population for a UBI is a guaranteed basic income based on agreed upon and transparent criteria.
‘Would you say that having a strong leader in the government, even if the leader bends the rules to get things done is very good, good, neither good nor bad, bad, or very bad as a form of government for our country?’ Here, Guyana at 57%, followed by El Salvador 56% and Jamaica 55% tops the list, after which the number of those countries supporting such behaviour drops appreciably to Haiti, where only 40% of the population supports this kind of behaviour. The high number for Guyana may be explained by the fact that Guyanese have known nothing else and have come to believe in ‘strongman’ politics although history has certainly not demonstrated its efficacy.
In most countries of the LAC region, one-third or more of the people would tolerate a military coup if there was substantial corruption, so perhaps wisely, those surveyed were not asked to respond to questions about coups.
As stated above, the report noted that public commitment to electoral democracy in the region remains fragile and doubts regarding its capacity to operate fairly and effectively likely account for why average levels of support for and satisfaction with democracy remain comparatively lower than they were a decade ago. In Guyana, where even a commission to supposedly improve the working of democracy is established in an undemocratic manner, the report’s contention that it would take clean governance to increase confidence in democracy offers little hope!