Is Guyana Democratic?

By Frederick Kissoon
Guyana Chronicle
October 10, 1999

THE former General-Secretary of the People's National Congress (PNC) Aubrey Norton, who is currently a PNC parliamentarian, and a likely candidate for the leadership of his party, said in August this year, in one of the dailies, that Guyana is not a democratic country. He referred to "tension to bring the power crazy to their senses". These are words not from mauby-shop television talkers who no one takes seriously, but a leading member of the major opposition party. One can deduce from this that there are others in his party who share those sentiments. Indeed there are, and they use certain television stations to explain their banal subjectivities. One can use three approaches to defend the ensconement of post-92 democracy in Guyana. Firstly, the personal experience; Secondly, the enjoyment of freedom by those who say such freedom does not exist here. And thirdly, the scholarly rejection. There is a fourth methodology - combination of the three. This essay follows that route. If I use myself as an example, then Norton who talks about lack of rights and freedoms, and power crazy people, enjoy more democracy than I do, though we are both citizens of this country. Since 1993, when the PPP took over the state, there have been four attempts to knock me off from UG. During that period, Mr Norton's PNC colleague, Vincent Alexander, who is Vice-Chairman of the PNC, remains the Deputy Registrar of UG and has never been touched. Now, if they are "power-crazy people" running Guyana who I have influence over, then how come PNC Alexander enjoys job security, and the powerful Freddie Kissoon fights to keep his job? Secondly, is the opposition allowed its democratic rights? This question is answered above with the Vincent Alexander example. But Mr Norton himself comes into the democratic picture. Shortly after his dismissal by Mr Hoyte as General Secretary of the PNC, Norton turns up at UG to work part time. His colleague, Dr Ken Danns, who was a candidate for the party in 1997, also works at UG. I may be wrong, but I'm not aware Dr Danns fights for job security at UG the way I do. So, in our second approach, we have come up with the names of three PNC personnel whose rights have not been affected by power-crazy people in Guyana. For a country to be designated a democracy, there must be diverse pillars of power, and those poles of power must not be encroached upon by the central zone of authority, the state. We can identify several poles of power in Guyana which remain in existence, and whose efficacy and energy lead them into confrontation with the central zone without democratic behaviour and democratic principles being compromised. The private media are the nemesis of the ruling party. We are still to see the overt or covert machination to undermine the democratic space in which the private media operate. One can invent the term mega-democracy, and apply it to the private media. John Mair of the BBC referred to mauby-shop talk shows which say the most nauseatingly untrue things about the government and its chief personnel. Yet, they remain unlibelled and free to peddle their unspeakable venalities. Across the border in Trinidad, Grenada and St Vincent, it would have been licks like peas. One editor is still in jail in St Vincent. The trade union movement is a state within a state. When it moves to flex its muscle, then you see the flow of power in Guyana. With little tolerance for the government, little respect for the main actors in government, and little observance for industrial norms, it challenges the state. It has put up no resistance to the former PNC state. Neither could it. But today, democratic tolerance allows such a condition to prevail. The judiciary tells the same story of democratic tradition. How many judgements have been given in favour of the state against businessmen who come up against the Customs and Excise Department? The Minister of Health has just been prevented from acting on a certain course of action by the courts. A case against the 1997 elections goes on unhindered. And unlike Trinidad, where the Chief Justice cried out last week about moves to impair the impartiality of the judiciary, we see and hear no such cries from our learned judges. What is interesting to note when discussing the existence or absence of democracy in Guyana is the use of libel laws. Such a method was a favourite hobby of the leaders of the PNC when they were in power. How many libels have we had filed by governmental functionaries against their critics. Actually, you would be surprised to know that it is the other way round. More people who claim that the government is power-crazy, dictatorial, vindictive, abusive and harmful are filing libel suits to shut others up. Now isn't that ironic. If you follow Mr Norton's logic, ministers would be slapping libel suits all over the place. Shall I name five persons who are doing just that, and they aren't government ministers trying to shut others up? Oh, before I go, I have four libel suits against me. That is very much true.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples