1998 -- More of the Same?

Stabroek News
January 4, 1998

The beginning of the year 1998 does not appear to be any improvement on the end of 1997. If anything the mistakes of the previous year are being compounded. Everyone is guilty: President Jagan and the PPP/Civic, Minority Leader Desmond Hoyte and the PNC, Elections Commission Chairman Doodnauth Singh and the Elections Commission, and now we have the Private Sector Commission (PSC), of all institutions, to add to the list.

Mrs Jagan, of course, continues to function as President in defiance of a court order, thereby bringing into question her commitment to the rule of law.

Mr Hoyte, having got everything out of sequence - street protests are a last resort after all else fails, not a first resort - still has not made public the evidence on which his allegations of electoral fraud are based, and yet is calling for new elections.

The biggest problem area in this political wasteland, however, is the Elections Commission. It is now apparent that the rift in the Commission is as deep as the rift in the country itself. What is worse is that Elections Commission Chairman Doodnauth Singh seems incapable of bridging the divide. In a crisis as profound as this one, the requirements of a Commissioner are tact, diplomacy, good negotiating skills, even-handedness, sound judgement, commonsense and a capacity to act in good faith.

Having already breached an undertaking to the PNC after the election not to declare a result until the verification process was complete, Mr Singh's injudicious comments to the media during another verification process effectively torpedoed that one as well. He is not an executive chairman, and therefore does not have the right to act unilaterally. In addition, he is not operating in a democratic spirit if he acts only with the sanction of the three PPP/Civic Commissioners. That is to give the appearance of a lack of even-handedness, and to exacerbate the crisis. The latest mistake in this regard is the removal of elections documents in containers provided by the PSC from the Commission headquarters to the Demerara Bank, which the opposition commissioners allege was done without a prior decision being taken in this specific regard at a meeting of the Commission. Furthermore, Commissioner Joycelyn Dow, representing the Alliance for Guyana and The United Force, was not even informed of the impending removal of the boxes.

As for the PSC, as an organization involved in negotiations to seek a resolution to the impasse, it too has to fall over backwards to present an appearance of absolute impartiality. It is a little unfortunate, therefore, that its name crops up in relation to this latest contretemps.

So before the country lurches towards the brink of anarchy, what should right-thinking Guyanese wish for in this New Year? First and foremost they should wish for all sides to accept an international audit of the ballot boxes as quickly as possible. The aim of the Commission should not necessarily be to get this done on the cheap, but to identify a company or organization which is acceptable to all parties. If the audit confirms the results, all well and good. If it does not, then at least we would have some generally acceptable information base which would allow us to consider the legal and constitutional options.

Secondly, Mrs Jagan should abide by the court order until the resolution of the court case currently being heard by the Chief Justice. It should be the former administration which should be functioning at present.

Thirdly, Mr Hoyte should stop the street protests for the time being; they are aggravating the situation and opening him to the charge that he does not want a resolution of the crisis.

Fourthly, Mr Doodnauth Singh should really try and work with the whole Commission, and not just a part of it, and should do nothing of significance without first consulting all the Commissioners, and putting every decision to the vote.

Fifthly - especially in the light of the Commonwealth Observers' Report which is very damaging - we need an independent inquiry into what went wrong.

And sixthly, of course, we would all wish that the Elections Commissioner would recognize that there is some wisdom in the old adage `silence is golden'.