Reflections on after tomorrow
Will the 'old politics' give way to new unity approach?

Guyana Chronicle
March 18, 2001

WHEN GUYANESE voters cast their ballots tomorrow, the hope must be that the official results will set the stage for honest, creative efforts in the formation of a government that really appreciates the need to give substance to the national motto of 'One People, One Nation, One Destiny'.

The fears of racial insecurity, the political hate, incitement to violence and character assassination, must give way to genuine attempts, certainly by the two dominant parties, to provide a new environment for spawning a culture of mutual respect, harmony and cooperation. The politics of inclusion, not exclusion seems a necessary prerequisite.

The latest opinion poll of the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA), done for the 'Stabroek News', the third and final installment of which was published yesterday (Saturday), forecasts a third-term victory for the incumbent People's Progressive Party (PPP)/Civic with approximately 34 and possibly 37 seats to 24 to 27 for its main rival, the People's National Congress (PNC)/Reform.

Be that as it may, the winners and losers of Elections 2001 must be prepared to rigorously review the implications of the verdict of the electorate and how and why they need to let a 'wind of change blow across this land where racial/political fatigue needs to be overcome with a new sense of togetherness in a climate of peace.

To continue carrying the baggage of racial/ political divisions, confrontational politics, the endless charges of discrimination and corruption, or to remain seemingly impotent to deal with the reckless irresponsibility of what passes for "talk shows" and "news" programmes on the unregulated "television" sector of the media, would be to endanger Guyana's future and destroy hopes for unity and stability.

Priority must be given to inspiring high confidence levels in the non-partisan, non-political, fundamental rights-oriented functioning of the judiciary, army, police and prison services.

From my own experience and assessment, there are many more people of goodwill in every ethnic and religious groups of Guyana, representatives in the private sector and labour movement whose desire for racial harmony, political stability and respect for the rule of law, far outweigh the anger, hate and divisiveness being spread by others.

Religious Initiative
Speaking collectively and with the clarity and integrity the situation warrants, these Guyanese of goodwill, the often silent majority, should let their ideas go forth, the sooner the better, after the close of the polling divisions tomorrow evening, on the kind of government they want to lead Guyana forward beyond electioneering politics.

In this context, it is encouraging to know that the leading religious denominations that have formed the National Inter-Faith Committee will be seeking to spread their own message of "peace and unity" beyond tomorrow's voting and the formation of a new government later in the week.

Why should the generational divisions of race, exacerbated by the split of the old PPP that was the authentic national movement of the 1950s, be allowed to continue to plague the lives of people whose ethnicity are so often exploited as fodder for ambitious and frustrated politicians and their parties?

Will the loyalists of the major and minor parties allow the "old guards" to continue to frustrate the political process for change in the body politic? Or will they insist, without ignoring democratic practices, on fostering leadership and policy changes in the best interest of their respective party and the nation state?

The intense and largely violence-free campaign for Elections 2001, that have come some two years early, climaxed last evening with major rallies by the two dominant contestants - PPPP and PNC.

No TV Debate
Unfortunately, there has not been that face-to-face live televised debate that the incumbent 36-year-old President Bharrat Jagdeo wanted with 72-year-old ex-President Desmond Hoyte. As was the case for the December 1997 elections, when the PPP/Civic presidential candidate was Janet Jagan, the PNC seems to find a way to prevent such a debate from occurring.

There are still far too many parties contesting elections for a comparatively small population - 11 this time around. It clearly has something to do with the existing electoral system. For the future, a way must be found to save the electorate from the confusion and burden of this myriad of parties that mushroom for elections.

There is no good reason why a party that honestly feels it has credible support among the potential voters should not be required to make a deposit of a realistic sum of money that can be forfeited should it fail to gain at least five per cent of the valid votes.

This should be one of the issues for future consideration by the Guyana Elections Commission that has been courageously coping with a horrendous task to meet its target date for tomorrow's elections.

The Monitors
Exactly how good a job it succeeds in doing will have to await post-elections analyses. The various Observer Missions from abroad, including that led by former US President Jimmy Carter, the European Union. OAS and the local Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB), will have their own say on the conduct of the elections.

The Commonwealth and CARICOM monitoring teams as well as the EAB can hardly afford to forget how the results of the 1997 elections that had been declared as "free from fraud", though not from a series of problems, were rejected by the main opposition PNC. Even the conclusion of the subsequent CARIOM Audit Commission of "no fraud" being found did not make a difference.

For tomorrow's poll, the Elections Commission wanted, as part of a proposed Code of Conduct, to get the contesting parties to commit themselves to acceptance of the official results. This also did not materialise amid all the vexation demonstrated over the shape of the final voters list.

Both the PPP/Civic and the PNC/Reform have been attracting big crowds at their meetings. But the question of relevance for them, as it is for all the other parties, is how effective will their respective machinery prove in getting their supporters to the polling stations tomorrow. We shall soon find out.