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Recently the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) referred to what is taking place in Guyana as ‘stone age’ politics, and this is appropriate if it implies that not only are political relations archaic but also that the country’s political and ethnic legacy has congealed into a kind of institutionalised survival of the fittest in which governments seek and are allowed to control everything. The conflicts relating to the elections management body, top judicial appointments, election reforms, local government management, etc., are only the symptoms of a political context in which the foundational problem of inclusion has not been adequately resolved.
‘The choice of an electoral system should ensure that the political cleavages of a society are properly addressed by the electoral legal framework in such a way that the main conflicts and differences between and among social groups can be accommodated through the system of political representation. This is to guarantee political inclusiveness and representation. There is no “best” electoral system suitable to all and no universally recognized standard. The choice of electoral system needs to be made with desired goals in mind. The effects which different kinds of electoral system can promote are ultimately contextual and depend on the specific cleavages and divisions within any given society. … (OECD ‘International Electoral Standards Guidelines for reviewing the legal framework of elections,’)
I am not making this intervention because I believe that of itself free and fair elections will solve the foundational problem of inclusion: the last decade of regime deadlock and change has put paid to any such notion. However, demographic changes and efforts at electoral manipulation by way of a bloated list suggest that some are trying to stymie a natural movement towards coalition – a more inclusive and appropriate form of governance for Guyana. Indeed, although other factors would have played their part in some respects, the table below is quite revealing in what it suggests about Guyanese electoral politics since the ‘return to democracy’.
Between 1992 and 2020 the population of Guyana increased just over 5% but persons registered to vote increased some 90%: from 748,596 to 786,559 and 348,195 to 661,378 respectively! What is even more intriguing; consider too that between the elections of 1992 and 1997 the population increased by only about 9,379, but the voters list increased by 113,286. Remember that the 1997 elections resulted in cries of election manipulation, street demonstrations, Caricom interventions and constitutional reforms. Talk of elections rigging was dismissed, even by me, with contentions that both parties were marginally involved in this behaviour, the elections were certified by observers and the PNC was in denial. But who knows? It is now generally accepted that facilitated by a bloated list, etc., elections are best rigged long before elections day and that even where not politically biased, the process of election observation, with its usually limited interventions on elections day, is insufficient and has been repeatedly rejected by courts.
|Years||Population||Registered Votes||Vote Change|
The number of people on the voters list between the 2006 and 2011 elections declined by 16,873, but after the PPP lost the majority at the 2011 elections, by 2015 the voters list had grown by 110,258 although the population had only increased by 15,404! It is not surprising that after the PPP lost the plurality in 2015, its general secretary, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, claimed that the Coalition (out of government mind you) had rigged the elections and filed an election petition. But who knows? I have never questioned the GS’s position on this matter and after 2015 the voters register again took off! For me the only difference between the 2020 elections and all the other claims of elections rigging is that the Caricom recount has provided concrete proof that neither the PPP nor its propagandists can overcome. The result is that even as that party continues to expend sizeable resources trying to prevent the substantive matter from being heard in the courts a recent study showed that only about 22% of Guyanese believe its story.
The 2020 European Union Elections Observation Mission commented on the continuous registration process that the PPP has been trumpeting. ‘But from over 370,000 entries garnered (during the aborted 2018 house to house registration process) only 16,642 were found to be new registrants while 88,876 entries pertained to modifications to the records of already registered voters, mostly changes of addresses. The fact that such changes were recorded for almost a quarter of all enumerated persons hints at clear limitations in the ability of the existing ‘continuous’ registration system to maintain an up-to-date, accurate register. … Recommendation: Undertake a thorough update of the decade-old register well ahead of the next election cycle, based on inclusive consultations and political consensus.’ And the Caricom recount team was pellucidly clear: ‘As a minimum condition of electoral reform, the Team recommends the urgent need for the total re-registration of all voters in Guyana.’
Did Guyana ever return to democracy? Regardless of who rigged or did not rig elections and what continuous registration process exists, the electoral register is bloated, open to abuse and so must be immediately cleansed by way of total re-registration if there is to be any hope of holding free and fair elections in which the citizens believe. The EU reminded us that decisions having to do with elections should result from ‘inclusive consultations and political consensus’. It will be nonsensical and undemocratic to go to any elections with the current bloated list.