History This Week No. 3/2008

Introduction

In two previous articles, the participation of women in Guyana’s general elections was examined against the background of changing social, political and ideological conditions and the government of Guyana’s international, regional and national commitments to improve the status of women, especially in the areas of political participation and power and decision making. Quantitatively there has been an increase in these areas but, like elsewhere in the world, qualitative changes have been minuscule. In this final article, using the above mentioned framework, the last four general elections will be discussed.

General Elections from 1992 through 2006

During the seven years that elapsed before the 1992 general elections, the PNC administration made an ideological about face. The Hoyte administration agreed to implement an “Economic Recovery Programme” which threw “Cooperative Socialism” out and opened the door to a market oriented economy. Implicit in the support which was given by the donor community, was the understanding that the demand for “free and fair” elections would be expeditiously accommodated. The 1992 general election was monitored by several local, regional and international organisations. The total number of seats to be won was 65. The number of women on the list of candidates of the 11 political parties that contested the elections was as follows: 6(9.1%) of the 65 of the Democratic Labour Movement, 8(10.1%) of the 65 of the National Democratic Front, 16(30%) of the 53 of the National Republican Party, 25(35%) of 60 of the People’s Democratic Movement, 16(24.6%) of 65 of the People’s National Congress, 8(10.1%) of 65 of the People’s Progressive Party, 19(30.3%) of 56 of the United Force, 28(40.4%) of 61 of The Union of Guyanese International, 10(15.3%) of 65 of the United Republican Party, 18(29.4%) of the 53 of the United Workers Party, and 13(20%) of 65 of the Working People’s Alliance.

As a result of the October 5, 1992 general elections, the now PPP/C received 162,058 of the total valid votes (303,186) cast equal to 28 seats plus 8 from regional elections, the PNC 128,286 equal to 23 seats plus 3 from regional elections, the WPA 6,086 equal to one seat plus one from the regional election, the TUF 3,183 and one seat.

The other seven political parties and the TUF, most of whom had a larger percentage of women on their lists than the four parties that won seats, individually received far less votes than those that were rejected. After 28 years in the political wilderness, the PPP returned to power.

Perhaps it was only fitting that the elections which supposedly saw the “return to democracy” was supported and closely monitored by the USA, the country that had done so much to help keep them out of power, fearful that democracy could not flourish in a communist beachhead. In the National Assembly of the Sixth Parliament, the PPP/C government had 42 members. Two of the 15 ministers were women – Ms Gail Teixeira, Senior Minister of Health and Ms Indranie Chandarpal, Minister in the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security.

As in the previous administration these were primarily feminine areas of concern. There were four other women. Seven of the 26 now opposition PNC MPs were women but neither of the two WPA MPs or the MP of the TUF was a woman. This was particularly disappointing in the case of the WPA which had a gender balance in its co-leadership. By 1994, only 11(15%) of the 77 member National Assembly were women. This was nearly 7% less than it was after the 1985 general election.

There were very significant happenings both nationally and internationally in the five years before the next general elections. The most important of these was the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The historic Platform for Action (PFA) and the Beijing Declaration continue to be the standard against which matters to do with the status of women are judged. Among the twelve critical issues identified was the lack of progress in the area of power and decision making.

According to the PFA “without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved”. Reinforced by the 1995 Human Development Report, the target of 30% women in positions of decision making was set for 1995.

The year 1997 was both sad and significant for Guyana. On March 6, 1997, President Cheddi Jagan died. Prime Minister Samuel Hinds assumed office as the Fifth President and Mrs Janet Jagan became the Prime Minister. However, in the elections that were held nine months later, she was the PPP/C’s presidential candidate. Ten political parties contested the December 15, 1997 general elections. Of the 399,310 valid votes cast, the incumbent PPP/C received 220,667 and 29 seats, the PNC 161,901 and 22 seats, the AFG 4,983 and one seat and the TUF 5,937 and one seat.

Individually, the latter two parties received less than the number (8,747) of rejected votes. When the result of the regional elections were added, the seats allocated to the four parties were 36, 25, 2 and 2 respectively.

The results of the 1997 elections were followed by serious protests in Georgetown by opposition supporters. In January 1998, President Janet Jagan and Opposition Leader, Desmond Hoyte signed the Herdmanston Accord. It advocated constitutional reform with a view to fresh elections in three years and an independent audit of the elections. Violent demonstrations again erupted after the CARICOM Mission identified anomalies but endorsed the validity of the elections. They only ended with the signing of the St. Lucia Statement which reaffirmed the Herdmanston Accord.

For most of its existence, the Constitution Reform Commission was dominated by men and only the subsequent intervention by a group of determined women led to the inclusion of the requirement of one third women on party’s lists of candidates. However, the Constitution Review Committee which included no women conveniently “forgot” to include the provision necessary to translate it into one third women MPs also. Though Guyana in 1997 became one of only six countries worldwide to have a woman as Head of State, it did not translate into increased numbers of women in the cabinet or other decision making positions. The Seventh Parliament continued to have only two women as ministers. When the new millennium dawned, the targets set out in respect of the twelve critical areas of concern in the PFA were far from being realized. At the Beijing plus 5 conference, it was conceded that while there was “a growing acceptance of the importance to society of the full participation of women in decision making and power”, there was “need for a gender balance in decision making bodies at all levels…” Additionally, a number of the Millennium Development Goals in one way or the other target women.

However, according to a report on the Progress of the World’s Women 2000, that 30% had become a “forgotten target” because it was not included in the International Development Targets. Moreover, in June 2000, the Women’s Economic and Development Organisation launched its global campaign “50/50 by 2005: Get the Balance Right”. The campaign, among other things, aimed at “dismantling the structural barriers and institutional practices which made it difficult for women to gain access to power and decision making”. Guyana made commitments in respect of all of these goals. Indeed, in the National Development Strategy, the “mainstreaming of gender concerns within national policy”, was given prominence.

Although it is a Civil Society document, there is the understanding that its recommendations would be accepted and implemented. Two general elections have been held since the beginning of the millennium. Both were won by the incumbent PPP/C. Eight parties contested the March 19, 2001 elections and six the August 28, 2006 elections. The results of those elections are as follows: of th
e 396,516 and 336,375 valid votes cast, the PPP/C received 210,013 equal to 34 seats and 183,887 equal to 36 seats.

The PNC/R received 165,866 equal to 27 seats and the PNC/R-1G 114,608 equal to 22 seats. GAP/WPA 9,451 equal to two seats, ROAR 3,695 equal to one seat and GAP/ROAR 4,249 equal to one seat (the WPA did not contest the 2006 elections). The TUF 2,904 equal to one seat and 2,694 equal to one seat. The Alliance for Change formed by one defector each from the PPP, PNC and WPA 28,366 and five seats. The goal of 30% women candidates even on the parties lists (except for the PNC) remained elusive. The National Assembly of the Eighth Parliament had 25 Geographical and 40 Top Up seats. Four (20%) of the ministers were women. All still holding mainly “feminine” portfolios (except for Ms Carolyn Rodrigues, Minister of Amerindian Affairs). The ruling PPP/C only had three other women MPs. Nine (33.3%) of the PNC/R’s 27 MPs were women. 100% that is both of WPA/GAP MPs were women.

The PNC has maintained its one third female MPs in the Ninth Parliament. It achieved in opposition what it failed to do while in power. The PPP/C has also maintained its five female ministers in a cabinet that is becoming more bloated. Can we expect any changes in the 2011 general elections?

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