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On the second anniversary of the historical storming of the United States Congress by supporters of former president Donald Trump on 6th January 2021 who claimed that the 2020 elections were rigged, President Joe Biden marked the occasion by awarding the Presidential Citizens Medal to fourteen of those who had stood and defended America’s democracy. Two days had not passed before the supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for similar reasons presented the winner of the 2022 elections, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with the opportunity to make similar awards, although it appears that some members of the security forces were happily taking selfies with the rioters. These outbreaks of protest and violence, even in what are considered stable democracies, suggest that the ease with which modern communications technology, and social media in particular, can mobilise the politically alienated into large militant groups for substantial periods of time, might, in the not too distant future, have to be addressed by way of major political institutional changes.
In Guyana, the regime has promised to reward those who in its view have stood for democracy, but so far, perhaps wisely, has refrained from doing so and is facing criticisms from some who are attempting to draw comparisons between Guyana and the USA. I beg to differ. In any context, be it in Guyana, the United States or Brazil, whether or not such rewards are justifiable would depend not simply upon the acts themselves but also upon the provocative behaviour that may have given rise to them, and these cannot be determined by means of persistent bluster and propaganda: they require careful analysis and judgment in the contextual environment and claims being made. This is precisely where Guyana differs sharply from the US and Brazil.
As I have stated elsewhere, during and after the US 2020 elections, both Democrat and Republican state officials certified that the election results in the swing states – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – were won by the Democratic party presidential candidate Joe Biden. In Georgia and Wisconsin, recounts made no significant difference to the results and in the former, the Republican Secretary of State recertified the results after an audited hand recount requested by the Trump campaign. As of 5th January 2021, the day before the elections were to be certified by Congress, President Donald Trump, his lawyers and friends had gone to court, including the US Supreme Court, in six states, claiming election fraud and had lost more than 50 cases. At least 96 judges from across the political spectrum, including some appointed by Trump, had rejected his post-election lawsuits (https://www.washingtonpost com/elections).
Before 2022, Jair Bolsonaro had not lost any of the previous three elections he had contested, but since 2014, based largely on his having no confidence in the nature of the system rather than any concrete proof, he has consistently claimed that elections in Brazil are rigged. In 1996, Brazil became the only country in the world to use electronic voting machinates without paper backup to collect and count votes. Although after the 2014 elections an audit of the results and since then numerous election security experts have shown that multiple layers of security prevent fraud errors, and officials test hundreds of machines on election day to ensure they are recording votes correctly, running for the presidency in 2018, Bolsonaro maintained his allegations. Even after he had won in a runoff he maintained that he would have won in the first round if votes had not been stolen from him. As the New York Times noted, Bolsonaro ‘built a narrative of fraudulent elections based on inaccuracies, out-of-context reports, circumstantial evidence, conspiracy theories and downright falsehoods – much like former President Donald J. Trump.’ He did not legally contest the results of the 2022 elections but demonstrated his disagreement by flying off to Florida to avoid attending the official handing over of the presidency to Lula. His supporters took this as their cue, and their riotous behaviour (although he has reluctantly condemned it) has rightly been widely damned both nationally and internationally.
The supporters of the now ruling PPP are attempting to spin the occurrences in the USA and Brazil to suggest that they are similar to what happened in Guyana after the 2020 elections, but I beg to differ. What we have seen in the USA and Brazil is that every administrative, technical and judicial effort was made to demonstrate that the elections could not have been and were not manipulated. Not so in Guyana, where although evidence of the suspected fraudulent behaviour that led to the disturbance at the very least provided a prima facie case that the elections may have been manipulated, two years on no definitive conclusions have been reached and in effect what is largely a transitional government appears to be making every effort to avoid such a finality. This is understandable because in its attempt to win support in forthcoming elections the regime has been proceeding to distribute state resources and make all manner of decisions in a unilateral manner. As has happened in Guyanese history before, if the courts should vitiate its rule, a new parliament would have to consider and confirm or not, much of what the regime has done so far! So calling for an interim government of this sort to make awards for contribution to the maintenance of the democracy is hilarious!
Perhaps this is another reason why the regime has unilaterally and undemocratically appointed a commission of inquiry to consider what happened in an around elections day in 2020. Among other things, the regime may be hoping that the COI will provide sufficient legal policy space for it to make such awards. All and sundry know that the legal position of the present regime is yet to be finalised. In a democracy, regardless of what the law may allow, decisions in matters having to do with elections arrangements and investigations should not be made unilaterally. As I have previously said, elections are best manipulated long before elections day and sufficient creditable evidence was presented to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) that the suspected fraud may have occurred. GECOM had a legal duty to consider those matters before determining the outcome of the elections but failed to do so.
We shall have to wait and see how this develops in this autocratic political environment that is Guyana.