Towards a solution

Stabroek News
June 26, 1999

The Herdmanston Accord [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] was signed in January l998 in a very specific context. There were continuing post-election protests which had led to violence and the country was almost at a standstill. Peace was restored on the basis that there would be an audit of the results, dialogue between the two main parties, a Commission would be set up to advise on constitutional reform and that two years of the government's five year term would be sacrificed. There would be an election early in the year 200l.

The protests had arisen because of a delay in announcing the election results, in particular from some Georgetown polling stations, the subsequent announcement of the results by the Chairman of the Elections Commission before the count was complete and the secret swearing in of the President, possibly for security reasons. The delay in announcing the Georgetown results has never been satisfactorily explained. The reasons given range from a breakdown in the arrangements for collecting the boxes to deliberate sabotage by the PNC through sympathetic election officials to create a mischief which they could themselves exploit, a Reichstag fire scenario.

Whatever the reasons the post-election breakdown was particularly tragic as the run up to the elections had been not quite incident free (there were minor problems with voter I.D. cards and over where to print the ballots) but impressive given our inglorious history of rigged elections and the confused heritage that had left. And voting day itself had been a model of peace and good order with few exceptions. One lesson to be learnt from this was that every effort must be made in future not only to smoothen out the kinks in the pre-election procedures but to work out the logistics of the collection of the ballot boxes after voting has been completed in the greatest detail to avoid any bottlenecks, accidental or contrived.

One of the issues the Constitutional Reform Commission will be dealing with is the composition of the Elections Commission. They may well recommend a modification of the Carter formula which puts a premium on political nominees, with an independent chairman. One expert has recommended a stronger independent component. They may also consider recommending a permanent elections commission, not one that is dissolved after every election. It is imperative that there be a highly trained body of men in place to ensure that future elections are as free from blemishes as can reasonably be expected. There are always, of course, minor glitches even in settled democracies. And our electoral past still casts a grim shadow which leads to often unfounded suspicions.

The statement by the three wise men when the Herdmanston Accord was signed said the aim of the agreement was "to reduce tensions, promote harmony and lay the basis for political co-operation in a manner designed to restore Guyana to a state of normalcy". What exactly did they have in mind? The language was perhaps deliberately vague and diplomatic. What kind of "political co-operation" did they envisage? This could in principle include improving parliamentary procedures, agreeing on formulas for land selection committees and appointments to state boards and finalising plans for a Race Relations Commission. Did they envisage anything more than that, any form of executive power sharing for example?

Though much debated power sharing is not so far on the agenda of either of the two main parties. Its proponents feel it provides a possible solution, at least on a temporary basis, and should be tried. Its opponents point to various negative features and express grave doubts as to whether the two main parties can work together, given the level of hostility that is perceived to exist. But they did in South Africa, temporarily, and we will never know if it can work unless it is tried.

In the absence of a power sharing or national front government solution the emphasis must be on ensuring that the next election will be conducted as fairly and efficiently as possible so that the party that loses will have no reasonable ground for complaint and that as many mechanisms as possible be put in place, along the lines mentioned above, to reduce areas of ethnic tension and to lay the basis for a "state of normalcy". Guyana cannot endure much more turmoil and anarchy. It has already set us back terribly. A long period of stability is essential to create real development. The basis for this has to be laid and that is what the Herdmanston Accord sought to achieve.


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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples