The major parties contesting the upcoming polls are being asked to shed light on the process that will be used to identify their prospective representatives in the National Assembly.
The Facing the Future (FtF) civil society coalition, which recently organised a forum on police reform, has invited the PPP/C, the APNU, the AFC and TUF to a public discussion to share the process they will use to compile their list of candidates for national elections and the procedures they will adopt to allocate seats. This is in response to what FtF says is the “anonymity surrounding the electoral system we employ in Guyana, in which there is zero accountability of elected representatives to voters.”
Mike McCormack, of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), which is one of the participation organisations in FtF, said that the coalition hopes the parties will participate in order to ensure that there is an accurate view of the process used to select candidates, rather than speculation. He added that the forum would help people to understand some elements of the electoral system, while pointing out that there is concern over the “anonymous arrangement” it currently promotes in the selection of candidates.
FtF, in a statement, noted that elsewhere in the English-speaking Caribbean, votes are cast for specific candidates and parliamentarians are reciprocally accountable to voters who elect them in some form or other. “In Guyana individual citizens play no role in selection of candidates and have no opportunity to assess their qualities, opinions or suitability to represent them,” it said, while adding that the it must be one of the few systems in the world where the elected representatives of the people have no contact with them either before elections or afterwards.
Reform of this and other features of our electoral system, have been successfully resisted, FtF further said, while noting that the only significant step to modernise the process in the past decade was the introduction of geographic candidates. Under this arrangement, it explained, the ten administrative regions are designated “geographic constituencies,” among which 25 of the 65 parliamentary seats are distributed according to population density. However, FtF said that in practice, parliamentarians elected from geographic lists are equally anonymous and indistinguishable from those elected from the National List.
“The current selection arrangements are internal to each party. Since independent candidates are not allowed to run for political office, political parties have a monopoly on determining who are suitable candidates. Whether experience, qualifications, gender balance, geographic distribution are criteria for selection is unknown, as is the way the criteria, if applicable, are actually applied. The privacy of selection procedures also leaves them open to abuse and cronyism, since both our electoral system and our presidential system place excessive power in the hands of the party leader,” it argued.
FtF said that in addition to learning more about how parties select candidates, the forum will provide opportunities to learn whether parties will list names in the order in which seats will be allocated, or list them alphabetically. The law allows parties to decide the order in which the names of candidates on its lists are stated.
In extending the invitation to parties, FtF emphasised that it is not expecting presidential or even parliamentary candidates to speak on behalf of their parties. The party is invited to send any person who is knowledgeable about the procedures the party will adopt and the requirements applicable to the selection process, it said.
The forum is scheduled for Friday, October 21 at the Demerara Life Conference Centre, at Robb Street and Avenue of the Republic, from 5 pm to 7 pm.
In addition to the GHRA, the other sponsoring organizations in FtF are the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), Church Women United (CWU), Common-ground, Community-Based Rehabilitation-EBD, Guyana Council of Churches (GCC), Guyana Society for the Blind, Guyana Workers Union (GWU), Institute of Deve-lopment Studies (IDS), Rights of Children (ROC), Red Thread, and Vilvoorden Women’s Organisation.