Third victory -- old challenges

by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
March 25, 2001

More than the arithmetic of the results, however, what is sorely needed in Guyana, is for new initiatives to be made by both the victorious PPP/Civic and the defeated PNC/Reform to promote a climate conducive to removing the unmistakable political tension and ethnic divisions that prevail in the society.

AFTER a virtual replay of incidents and developments that followed the results of the

December 1997 elections -- street protests, physical violence and a legal challenge to prevent the President taking the oath of office -- Guyanese appeared to be settling down yesterday to life under a new PPP/Civic government.

Although the PNC/Reform succeeded in blocking Bharrat Jagdeo from taking the oath as President on Friday, the general expectation is that this legal hurdle should be overcome tomorrow when Chief Justice Desiree Bernard resumes hearing of the injunction filed.

Last Monday's elections marked a third consecutive term victory for the PPP/Civic. But

Guyana remains sorely polarised and bold, imaginative efforts will have to be made, the sooner the better, to heal old wounds and respond to old challenges to avoid more of the same ethnic/political problems that have plagued this country for far too long.

In the lyrics of the 'Mighty Sparrow', "ten to one is murder". But if that was the intention of ten opposition parties with a common purpose to defeat the PPP/Civic on March 19, it was yet another decisive failure.

From its inception the electoral system of Proportional Representation (PR) that replaced the First-Past-The-Post model back in 1964, was intended to so fragment the votes of the electorate in this divided multi-ethnic society, that one party, and the PPP in particular, could no longer emerge as the overall winner.

Well, the PPP nevertheless did emerge as the majority party at the December 1964 elections, ahead of the People's National Congress (PNC) and a then United Force (UF).

Although together, the PPP and PNC had polled some 84 per cent of the votes, the PNC opted to form a coalition with the UF and rejected then Premier Cheddi Jagan's call for a coalition.

Soon, the PNC ditched its coalition partner and went on to make a virtue of electoral rigging that lasted until the October 1992 elections when the PPP eventually returned to power with the restoration of electoral democracy in which former U.S. President Jimmy

Carter and his Atlanta-based Centre played an important role.

As a PPP/Civic, the party has now won three elections in a row -- 1992, 1997 and 2001.

With the exception of the PNC/Reform, which performed marginally better than it did in 1997, the combined votes of the nine other opposition parties, that included those with direct race appeal, failed to muster more than five per cent of the valid votes cast. The PPP/Civic, on the other hand, garnered 53 per cent and the PNC/Reform 42 per cent.

Since the March 19 poll was undoubtedly the last electoral hurrah for the 72-year-old leader of the PNC/Reform, Desmond Hoyte, the question of immediate relevance is whether he will now set the stage for a cooperation outreach with the 36-year-old President Jagdeo and help promote a climate of political stability before graciously making way for his own succession.

Or, will the country be stuck in the mud of threats and lawlessness, divisive, destabilisation politics, with the governing party failing to give substance to the notion of 'inclusivity' and its traditional foe focussing on how best to make life miserable for governance and national unity?

Even with its new "reform" wing, the PNC's latest attempt at crying foul over its defeat had contributed to political disturbances and violence, some of it clearly instigated by the reckless and bizarre behaviour of their supporters on television "talk shows" with no known effort by the party at condemnation up to the time of writing yesterday.

While the method for declaring the official results by the Elections Commission was different to that in 1997, it made no difference to some of the old tactics of the PNC in seeking to discredit the outcome and inflaming passions among its own supporters.

Not surprisingly, therefore, in the process even an outstanding stalwart of the party, one of its best known intellectuals, Haslyn Parris, became a victim of those of the party supporters who physically attacked him for candidly declaring the results of Monday's elections to be "transparent and clean".

The Elections Commission is comprised of three representatives each of the PPP/Civic and the PNC/Reform with the independent chairman, retired Major General of the Guyana Defence Force, Joe Singh, having been selected as one of six nominees of the Opposition Leader in keeping with a formula originally adopted at the October 1992 election when the PNC first lost power after 28 years in government.

The delay in certifying the official results took almost four days, longer than in 1997 in a country where, though vast, the electorate stood at approximately 440,000 for voting day.

This is a comparatively small electorate when related, for example, to that of either Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago, CARICOM's most populous member states, where elections results are known within the first two days of poll.

But it was not any political skullduggery, anything to do in thwarting the expressed will of the electorate that resulted in the delay, though deficiencies in compiling the electoral register and the need to reform the electoral process and have a permanent body, minus politicians, to conduct future elections, were stressed by both foreign and local observers and sections of the media.

As Haslyn Parris, one of the three PNC/Reform representatives on the current Elections

Commission noted at a media briefing when the official final results were declared: "There is nothing to suggest that the results announced are not an accurate account of the votes cast..."

Parris said that the methodology used and the counting of the votes by the various officers were as required by law and the "process was transparent and clean".

This sentiment had earlier been expressed by all the observer missions that monitored the electoral process, among them the Carter Center, OAS, European Union, the Commonwealth, Caribbean Community and the local Electoral Assistance Bureau.

The affirmed "transparent and clean" electoral process, reflected in the official verification of the results declared by acting Chief Elections Officer, Gocool Boodoo, has paved the way for President Jagdeo to take the oath of office. In the case of Mrs Janet Jagan, she had already been sworn in before being served with an order to delay the process.

The final results of Monday's elections, in accordance with the proportional representation electoral system, gave the PPP/Civic 209,031 or 53.09 per cent of the 393,709 votes cast, to secure 35 of the 65 seats at stake for the parliament.

This was one seat less and also about two per cent less of the popular votes obtained in

1997. It also won 11 of the 25 geographic seats in the local government system. The PNC/Reform, on the other hand, won 27 seats -- two more than in 1997 -- with 164,074

votes or 41.67 per cent. This is approximately 45,000 less than what the PPP/Civic received but just over one per cent more than the votes secured at the 1997 poll

It also won 13 of the 25 geographic seats. Therefore, while it trailed the PPP/Civic by some 11 per cent in popular votes, the PNC/Reform did marginally better than in 1997 and the strength of its mass base remains largely unshaken, despite the evident gains made by the PPP/Civic in areas such as Linden.

Surprise showings came from two of the nine small parties -- an alliance of the new

Amerindian-based Guyana Action Party and the old Working People's Alliance (GAP/WPA) and a pro-East Indian Rise Organise and Rebuild Guyana (ROAR) with two and one seats respectively.

The direct ethnic appeals were from the GAP wing of the GAP/WPA alliance -- largely to the indigenous Amerindians of the hinterland and riverain areas -- and ROAR's East

Indian supporters who feel their interest are represented neither by the predominantly

Indo-Guyanese PPP/Civic nor the primarily Afro-Guyanese PNC/Reform.

The GAP has enabled the survival of the WPA as a parliamentary party.

More than the arithmetic of the results, however, what is sorely needed in Guyana, is for new initiatives to be made by both the victorious PPP/Civic and the defeated PNC/Reform to promote a climate conducive to removing the unmistakable political tension and ethnic divisions that prevail in the society.