The mob must not be allowed to prevail

Stabroek News
March 26, 2001

One of the most troubling features of this election has been the virtual self-barricading of people in their homes and wherever they feel safest.

Since Monday, workplaces, the normally bustling city centre, markets, car parks and, sadly, schools have seen much reduced attendance. People have stayed away and kept their children home because they believe that the elections - and their results now that they are out - will lead to trouble in the streets and physical attacks by mobbish elements. This is a profoundly distressing commentary on the state of our society. In the most recent period of our history, it can be traced to the delivery of the 1992 elections results, followed by the 1997 returns and now the outcome of the 2001 polls. In between, there have been other occasions including the upheaval that attended the public service strike in 1999.

This season has seen a number of worrying events. The most unsettling of these was the eruption of violence on Wednesday simultaneously in a number of East Coast Demerara villages. The seed of this disturbance lay in a still-to-be-explained visit by election staff to a polling station in Buxton during which time there was an attempt to take down a statement of poll. Villagers became incensed at this and attacked and besieged the elections staff in a building. They were eventually rescued by the police - who were attacked in the process - and escorted out of Buxton. Police then returned to the village to exert their authority and this is when all hell broke loose.

It is inexplicable that what started out as a misunderstanding over a statement of poll could degenerate into an hours-long, intifida-like stone throwing and burning of everything in sight straddling four or five villages. It was an unusual reaction in scope and scale that raised questions about its true purpose. Both villagers and the police need to examine their own actions to determine why this happened and why it escalated trapping people in their villages and choking off traffic on the East Coast.

Then there were several other incidents when pro-PNC REFORM supporters attacked Odinga Lumumba - ministerial advisor on empowerment, Desmond Trotman - of GAP/WPA and Haslyn Parris - an elections commissioner for the PNC/R. These acts were committed because these supporters felt that the individuals were either doing something to unfairly help the PPP/Civic or were working against the PNC/R.

Whatever the motivation, these attacks were completely out of order and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

The one on Mr Parris was particularly sickening and since it occurred within the precincts of the PNC/R that party has a significant responsibility in divorcing itself from those disposed to thuggery. The PNC/R has quite appropriately condemned this attack on Mr Parris but it must go further to make it clear to those of its supporters inclined this way that they have no support at Congress Place. The party must dissociate itself completely from these persons. It must also repudiate those of its followers who held three persons captive at Congress Place and beat and interrogated them in secret police fashion, blindfolds and all. This cannot be tolerated in a civilised society. These events should also be investigated - as Mr Corbin has promised - and those culpable handed over to the police.

It is the responsibility of all stakeholders - the government, political parties, civil society groups, the police - in society to lend their voices and influence towards returning life in the city and its environs to normalcy. Moreover, the purchase of the mobocracy on the levers of fear has to be loosened and the mob has to be dispersed back into the woodwork.

We have all been drawn into this pernicious campaign of fear by purveying the well- known rumours of angry citizens marching on the capital and other totally unfounded wisps of titillation. The rumour mill notwithstanding, there have been ugly incidents that have produced real fear. We must, however, not give them the multiplier effect treatment. They must be put in perspective and those who must investigate and condemn them must do so.

To reassure the citizenry, there should be a greater police presence on the streets of the capital and places in turmoil. There must be no heavy-handedness on the part of the police neither must there be baiting of the police by citizens. In addition, we must all show that we are not afraid to continue doing what we are supposed to be doing. We must show no fear.