Elections Watch

Stabroek News
March 28, 2001

PNC/R must condemn acts of destruction - PPP/C

The People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) is calling on the People's National Congress REFORM (PNC/R) to condemn the acts of destruction taking place and the unrest being fomented.

In a statement, the PPP/C was referring to the torching of the Belladrum Bridge, West Berbice yesterday and other cases where infrastructure was damaged. "The PPP/C notes the deafening silence of the PNC and its leader Desmond Hoyte in the face of these deliberate acts of unrest ... the time has come for Mr Hoyte to dissociate himself and his party from those elements (who) seem bent on creating disorder".

The ruling party also called on all Guyanese to be wary of wild rumours being whispered in the streets of Georgetown saying they are only intended to spark violence and create civil unrest.

It noted the example of the false report that four persons were killed in West Berbice. This falsehood was spread in the crowd gathered outside the court for the hearing into the case challenging the swearing in of President-elect Bharrat Jagdeo. "The unruly crowd charged past police barricades, attacked citizens, and damaged several private properties and vehicles. A number of persons were also beaten and robbed" during the confusion caused by the rumour, the PPP/C noted. (Back to top)

Leading members of PNC/R call for wide ranging dialogue

by Oscar Clarke

Further calls for national dialogue on critical issues have come from leading members of the People's National Congess/Reform in the wake of the March 19 polls which saw the People's Progressive Party/ Civic re-elected.

In a television programme aired Sunday on Channel 9, chaired by PNC Parliamentarian, Sherwood Lowe and including executive members Attorney at law Debbie Backer and Political Activist, James McAllister, the trio put forward the position that the PNC/R had achieved a significant share of the electorate and as such had a stake in the nation's development.

Acknowledging that race was a significant factor in determining the outcome of the March 19 polls, Backer posited the need for the two major political forces to work in harmony for the betterment of the country. The PNC/R, she continued, was not asking for favours, but was seeking assurances on equitable treatment in relation to land distribution, jobs, contracts and other spheres of life.

Emphasizing the point, McAllister stressed that the results had shown that the PNC/R by consolidating its support base, had proved that it continued to be a powerful party which could not be easily swept aside.

This, he noted, refuted a claim by PPP/C members during the campaign that they were going to break the back of the PNC/R and totally crush it.

The party, according to the Region 3 (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands) chairman, had succeeded in maintaining its support and as such needed to ensure that its supporters benefitted from opportunities like any other citizen.

Urging a reversal of the old positions of governance where political alliance galvanised patronage, the trio challenged the new government to rise above partisanship and seek to develop a new culture. "The only thing constant is change" Backer stressed.

Using the theory of two elephants fighting which she said made the ground suffer, Backer pointed out that the two major political forces needed to cease fighting each other if the country was to see progress.

In this regard she referred to the Stabroek News editorial of March 23, which highlighted the need for urgent dialogue if the nation was to avoid travelling a full circle of forty years back to community disintegration.

"It is no use talking about the past... we need to look at where we are now" Backer posited, while developing the premiss that the government needed to be all inclusive which would include the smaller parties including other stakeholders having a role to play in determining the way forward.

It cannot be business as usual since both parties had been mandated by significant blocks, stressing the need for urgent dialogue to address significant issues.

While condemning acts of violence and other forms of terror presently gripping the society, the young turks saw some of the anger emanating from a section of society, as that of a feeling of continued marginalisation which had a likelihood of continuing for the next five years.

The PNC/R they said was not gaining credit for helping to maintain calm among their supporters many of whom sense a period of helplessness and frustration, a situation that had not been improved by the reaction of some members of the Guyana Police Force.

Acknowledging that the PNC/R did not have all the answers they urged a unified thrust where all were prepared to press their shoulders to the wheel.

Stressing that it was not a framework for winners and losers, Lowe cited the need for the government to take cognisance of the fact that others existed and it was their duty to look after their interests.

Reflecting on the campaign, McAllister acknowledged that both major political groups mounted massive and elaborate campaigns resulting in both needing to take pride from their achievements.

March 19, according to Backer, must be viewed as the dawning of a new era in Guyana were all political groups come to the dialogue table with a clean heart and genuinely engage each other in frank and open discussions.

They, she continued, needed to work for meaningful solutions ensuring that the majority of the population is given a sense of belonging.

Let us not equate 48% of the country who did not vote for the PPP/C to 0 or vice versa 52% to be equal to 100% but rather work for an equatible sharing of the nation's resources, concluded Backer.

CARICOM observers declare elections free and fair

Call for reconciliation

The CARICOM observer mission has echoed reports from other observer groups that the March 19, elections were free and fair despite the disenfranchisement of some eligible electors.

But the mission "regretted that on March 22, there was some disorder in several areas along the East Coast Demerara. It suggested that reconciliation between the two major parties was necessary in the interest of the future governance of Guyana and its people."

St Lucia Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, the CARICOM head of government with lead responsibility for justice and governance issued a statement on Monday saying he had received the report from the CARICOM Electoral Observer Mission.

Anthony said the mission was of the view that a genuine effort was made by the Guyana Elections Commission to hold elections that were free, fair and transparent. A serious commitment to a fair electoral process was evident."

"The mission regrets however that continuing difficulties with the official list of electors [OLE] resulted in the disenfranchisement of some eligible electors. Members of the mission met a number of persons who held proof of registration, but were not able to vote because their names were not on the OLE. The extent of these omissions could not be quantified. It is important that these shortcomings of the registration system be resolved to avoid a recurrence of such occurrences."

The mission monitored 200 polling stations in Regions Four, Five, Six and Ten. A few minor irregularities were reported, such as the late opening of some polling stations due to a lack of materials or security. However, taken as a whole, the teams agreed that the poll was orderly, transparent and in compliance with established procedures."

The mission was however disappointed that after an admirable electoral process during the day, considerable confusion was created at 1800 hrs, precisely at the close of polls, with an announcement from the GECOM that the polls should remain open. Word of the extended opening was conveyed to the presiding officers in most instances in a very informal manner and after the ballot boxes had already been closed. This created a sense of uncertainty among poll staff, which eventually translated into inconsistencies in the closing of the poll. However, the mission agreed that the electoral process was conducted in an atmosphere free of intimidation or fear and was transparent and that therefore the outcome of the elections would be fair."

Cabinet reshuffle would not be enough


By Bebe Buksh

President Bharrat Jagdeo's planned reshuffling of the cabinet and the inclusion of persons from outside the party does not go far enough, officials of some political parties say.

They say the move will not bridge the current racial divide which has gripped the Guyanese nation.

At a press conference last Friday, Jagdeo stated his intentions of appointing persons from outside of the PPP/Civic for cabinet positions.

Co-leader of the Working People's Alliance (WPA) Dr Rupert Roopnaraine is again maintaining his position that Jagdeo "abandon" this "cosmetic approach" and instead move towards a Government for national unity.

He wants the idea of a national unity government to be "put back on the agenda." He argued that the PPP/C administration has attempted a cabinet shakeup and this failed.

"They have to deal with the political parties in a dignified way" and any similar move for new cabinet appointments will "give rise to growing cynicism."

Dr Roopnaraine said he has written to both the PPP/C and PNC/R leaders, Jagdeo and Desmond Hoyte respectively on the issue. Roopnaraine's WPA allied itself with the Guyana Action Party at the recent elections and the group clinched two seats. In the previous parliament in alliance with the Guyana Labour Party and others, the WPA also had two seats.

In similar sentiments, Leader of the Rise, Organise and Rally Guyana Movement (ROAR) Ravi Dev said "all the parties need to come to a position where power must be allocated...

"To bring in one or two persons is tokenism," Dev said reacting to Jagdeo's intention to appoint persons from outside of the party for his new cabinet.

He said the late Forbes Burnham appointed 16 technocrats from civil society and it did not enhance efforts at encouraging trust in his PNC Government.

Reiterating the need for a national government, Dev said cabinet appointments would again fail because "look at the events which are plaguing the country again!" referring to the political unrest.

He suggested that the entire institutional framework which governs the country should be re-examined --- from the civil sector to the executive branch of government.

For instance, Dev lamented the "imbalance which characterises" that framework of the society which is outside of the cabinet such as the army and police, which he said are "PNC-controlled. The PPP cannot control" the two.

"The PPP should make demands therefore on the PNC", he suggested.

His approach to building a unity government is to invite the representatives of the various "ethnic sectors" and discuss who would occupy positions not only restricted to the cabinet.

In other words, noted Dev, the issue is not about personalities but rather about bringing credibility to those institutions which play on the minds of Guyanese.

He called on Hoyte to make a definitive statement on the matter, particularly in relation to the current unrest. ROAR contested general elections for the first time on March 19 and captured one seat.

Leader of the Justice For All Party (JFAP) C.N. Sharma's bottom line is for Jagdeo to take persons for jobs according to their skills.

"Talk is cheap", he said, in reaction to Jagdeo's proposed move for new cabinet appointments from outside of the party.

"We only want a few changes" in certain institutions to be immediately considered now, "to set the wheel in motion", Sharma added.

Ishmael alerts OAS to situation in Guyana

Urges support for democratic process

Ambassador Odeen Ishmael has alerted the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) that "there are forces [in Guyana] which cannot and would not accept the democratic process, and are using non-legal measures to hold the elected government to ransom."

Ambassador to the U.S. Ishmael was speaking at a special Washington meeting to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the 1991 OAS Resolution on Representative Democracy, commonly known as Resolution 1080. He said that this resolution provides "a firm warning and deterrence to any political or extra political group that threatens democratic political order."

Ishmael gave an outline of current events in Guyana noting "that an air of tension pervades many parts of the country. Such tension is a fertile breeding ground for rumours, which inject fear in the ordinary people. The spreading of hostile rumours... amounts to... psychological terrorism," Ishmael said.

"In the case of my country the opposition must represent its supporters by acting in a responsible manner and providing checks and balances to the government through the parliamentary process. It must also participate in positive ways to work with the government in developing programmes which will be beneficial to all its constituents."

He called on "the OAS, all its members states and the international community as a whole to support the democratic process in Guyana and to urge all political parties to establish lines of cooperation which can surely assist in the growth of a healthy democratic culture in the country. At the same time this organisation and the international community must condemn any act that undermines the democratic process in the country."

Ishmael concluded that "while Resolution 1080 helps to defend democracy, its fundamental weakness is that it can be applied only after a threat of destabilisation reduces the effectiveness of the democratically elected government... the question the OAS must ask itself is this: Must it sit back while a democratic government is pressurised by forces which act contrary to democracy; or should it help to develop forms of preventive diplomacy including the application of conflict resolution mechanisms to defend such a democratic government against the forces of destabilisation?"

More injured in clash outside of court

Police taunted, barriers scaled

Although yesterday was relatively calm outside of the High Court compared to Monday, a number of persons including a schoolboy were injured while two were arrested during the single crowd/police confrontation.

David John, a 12-year-old student of Carmel Primary School, was treated at the Accident and Emergency Care Unit of the Georgetown Public Hospital and sent home after a pellet grazed him on his left leg. Reports indicate that the pellet hit him while he was in the vicinity of the Lodge/South car park on his way home from school.

Others injured are Stephen Green, 17, Rodwell Belle, 28, Kameel Blackman, 22, Orvill Scott, Rickford Benn, 32, Shawn Goodridge, 15, Kwesi Henry, 19, Simone Gonsalves, 30, Quincy Netnawn, 14, John Renman, 18, Brian Trotman, 25, Kenton Griffith, 15, and Yonette Kellman, 29. A crowd has gathered outside the court each day since the start of a case brought by PNC REFORM member Joseph Hamilton challenging the swearing in of president-elect Bharrat Jagdeo.

After what was proceeding as an incident free-day - not withstanding a few sideshows from crowd members - police opened fire at the out-of-court audience following some amount of provocation from a female protester.

At about 1510 hrs, an unidentified person who was sitting behind the barricades, wrote and distributed placards to a set of women who were also beyond the barriers.

Satisfied that their group had enough cards, the women stood up, marched around in a circle and sang Dave Martins' "Not a blade of grass". This emboldened some of the other persons behind the barricades, who began crossing over and joining the little demonstration.

Because the police ignored this development, more persons crossed until one eventually pushed down the protective iron barrier. Once over, they chanted and ran around the law enforcement men causing a male officer to attempt to effect an arrest.

This was, however, impossible for the now disorderly crowd descended on him and he was forced to set free the female. At this point, the taunts grew and the riot squad was forced to intervene. The policemen issued one verbal warning and then fired indiscriminately at the crowd which ran for cover after responding with a number of bricks, a few of which fell short of hitting the officers.

Police advanced again and snatched what appeared to be a small (in stature) person and hit him several times with a baton. Another person was also thrown into their vehicle.

Employees of the court became vocal at the display of the use of force but things returned to normal despite a few more bottle- throwing incidents.

At 1830 hrs, what appeared to be a mentally-ill person ensured though that quiet did not prevail. She came from out of nowhere, stood in the empty street and cursed. A troublemaker between the gathering capitalised on this opportunity and threw another bottle at the police squad.

Without warning, they shot at the crowd again sending everyone scurrying for cover. Despite repeated calls for the now scattered group to disperse they did not budge until the Court was adjourned and an inspector authoritatively ordered them to go home.

As if tired from the day's lack of activity, they broke away in small groups.

Meanwhile, a notice advising the gathering that there was going to be a march today at 1130 hrs from the High Court was distributed.

Curb those who incite

-Roshan Khan urges PNC/R

Chairman of the Electric Mosque, "Teachings of Islam", Roshan Khan is calling on the PNC REFORM (PNC/R) to curb those who incite in its name and call for violence.

Khan in a press release on Monday condemned the physical attack on PNC/R representative on the Guyana Elections Commission, Haslyn Parris at the party's headquarters at Congress Place, Sophia, last Friday.

The release added that the People's Progressive Party/Civic and the PNC/R are institutions embedded in the psyche of the people of Guyana and called on them "to find a solution to end for all times hate and divisiveness".

Court crowd should be told case not to overturn elections

-Justice Bernard advises attorneys for Joe Hamilton

Out of concern for her safety, Chief Justice Desiree Bernard yesterday called on the attorneys for Joe Hamilton, whose application to stay the swearing in of President Bharrat Jagdeo she is hearing, to let the crowd know that the case was not about overturning the results of the elections.

She also spoke to Mark Benschop in chambers about his part in misinforming the crowd, which had gathered outside the court and on his television programme that her decision would remove President Bharrat Jagdeo.

"Have they been told that I don't hold the power to take out one party and put in another? Tell them that the objective of the exercise is not to overturn the elections," Justice Bernard said.

The Chief Justice's remarks were made before the hearing of Hamilton's application resumed and in the aftermath of Monday's disturbances, apparently sparked by an unfounded report that four men had been shot and killed at Weldaad, West Coast Berbice. She said she believed that if those gathered outside the court were to be told the truth they would understand what was happening.

Justice Bernard's observations came from a concern at the fear, which was stalking the land and of being in the firing line, literally and figuratively.

Justice Bernard observed too that because the crowd had not been told the nature of the issue before the court there were unrealistic expectations about the outcome of the case.

She also observed that it was unfortunate that the rumour about the shooting had been repeated in court by Roysdale Forde, one of Hamilton's attorneys, but stressed that she was in no way connecting him with the behaviour of the crowd outside the court.

She cautioned the young attorney to check all information he received at this time when rumours abounded in the society.

The Chief Justice's remarks sparked a heated exchange between another of Hamilton's counsel, Basil Williams and counsel for President Jagdeo, Ralph Ramkarran when the latter told the court that there was a connection between the PNC REFORM, Benschop and Williams.

Williams objected strenuously to the allegation that there was any connection between himself and Benschop and stressed that the crowd outside the court was there out of its interest in the proceedings and not at the instruction of the PNC REFORM.