Suspicion is the curse of this country. There are historical reasons for it, of course, which hardly need any elaboration, but in terms of its consequences it produces all kinds of irrationalities. Last week in particular was not a good week for the nation. At the bottom of everything which went wrong was the whole matter of the Statements of Poll (SoP). In fact, possibly much of what happened could have been avoided if Gecom had simply agreed to make available the SoPs at the time APNU requested them. They are, after all, public documents and were posted outside the polling stations after the count, so there should have been no problem providing copies to all the political parties, and not just to APNU.
No doubt Gecom was irritated by Mr David Granger’s insistence that the party he represented would not accept the results unless it saw the SoPs, but as a public agency in charge of a democratic election process it has a duty to ensure that the parties – and by extension the public – are satisfied that everything is transparent. This is especially so in circumstances where mistrust is ingrained in the social psyche. As it was, it was perhaps no surprise that elements in APNU married the delays in the announcement of results to the reluctance to make available the SoPs, and arrived at the conclusion that everything was not kosher. Gecom’s stance, of course was not helped by the fact that it had granted a recount to the PPP/C even before the results had been announced, so its lack of response to APNU opened it to accusations of a lack of even-handedness.
It was Mr Raphael Trotman of the AFC who was reported in this newspaper on Thursday as pointing out that following the 2006 election, the parties received a CD Rom with all of the scanned SoPs and the signatures of the certifying officers. He went on to say: “[Gecom] has a judicial function and if it carries out that function it has a right to show the basis for how it acted. It has a statutory and constitutional duty to provide the supporting documentation to show how it arrived at its decision.” So why, an observer might ask, was what was done almost routinely in 2006, impossible to do in 2011? At the very least it suggests poor judgement.
Eventually, of course, the SoPs were released, but that was after the intervention of the Private Sector Commission, which is not a stakeholder in the election although it seems to have given itself a high profile during this year’s poll, in the process damaging its reputation. Exactly why the PSC should get a hearing from Gecom and a political party like APNU representing 40.8% of the votes cast should be ignored, is not something which is easily explained, and simply served to increase suspicion.
In the meantime, of course, demonstrators were out on the streets over the matter of the SoPs, making clear their conviction that Mr Granger should have won, and the election had been stolen from APNU through fraud. The first thing which has to be said is that the protests have been perfectly peaceful; however, in a society like this with its history of post-elections violence, any kind of demonstration makes many people apprehensive, including the business community which has lost so much in the past. In a general sense too, such action has the potential to raise the temperature at this time, making it more difficult, rather than less so, to achieve the accommodations between the parties which the election results indicate the electorate wants.
This does not mean to say that peaceful marches and demonstrations are not legitimate; they are, but in this particular instance (the protest outside the Ministry of Home Affairs over the police shooting excepted) the issue is one of judgement, and one wonders what the leadership – particularly some members of the WPA – is telling the young people who are on the streets. One can see that the protestors might assume that Mr Granger had won the presidency given that the PPP/C made sure the odds were stacked against the opposition during the run-up to the election, while their reluctance to relinquish power was evidenced in their decision to ask for a recount. There is too the simple fact that the PNC rigged elections for many years, and it is easy for some in the APNU base to believe that the PPP/C would do the same thing. In addition there are the suspicions which have been raised about the decline in PPP/C votes not being reflected in Regions 3 and 4 to the extent that they were in 5 and 6, for example. Finally, the early results which came in favoured APNU, giving the impression the party was doing better than it eventually did.
While the inferences the base made are understandable, it is for leaders to explain the realities to them. Early results, for example, always favour the PNC (in this case, APNU), and the bulk of PPP votes invariably come in later. The problem is one cannot extrapolate in this country from the results in one locale or even quite a number of them. Secondly, as was said last week, the sprawling housing schemes in Regions 3 and 4, where so many assumed PPP supporters had been given house lots, would have affected the PPP/C vote there, and that portion of the constituency would have been far less influenced by the pull of Mr Nagamootoo than the one in his home terrain of Region 6, and to a lesser extent, Region 5.
Those, however, are relatively minor arguments. A more major one is the fact that with 48.6% of the vote, the PPP/C would still have needed 5,265 more votes to secure an overall majority. APNU, therefore, with 40.8% of the vote, would need many thousands more than this to achieve the same end. And if, supposing, it really were the case that the party had been deprived of thousands of votes, then that could only have been achieved with rigging on an industrial scale – something that was simply not possible. The OAS observers were embedded in Gecom watching every stage of the tabulation process and there is no way many thousands of votes could have been stolen right under their noses. And in any case, if the PPP/C, for the sake of argument, in cahoots with Gecom, were going to steal thousands of votes, they surely would not do such a poor job of it that they would not give themselves an overall majority.
No, the result is accurate, and it is what it is. There may conceivably be some minor discrepancies which need explaining or reconciling, but there will be nothing which will change the final outcome. In any case, APNU must have had its registered agents in a large number of polling stations and be in possession of copies of those poll statements. In addition, Mr David Patterson of the AFC has said that he supplied some copies of SoPs to APNU that they did not have, so the latter’s leadership even before they received the CD Rom should have had a fair idea, one would have thought, that the result did not reflect fraud. Be that as it may, by now they can be in no doubt that it doesn’t.
So what are their supporters doing on the streets, when they know what the reality is, and when all that will happen is that they damage their party’s long-term chances of improving on their result? Street action is quite simply a cul-de-sac. The problem is that now it will be difficult to get the APNU demonstrators off the streets and persuade them to accept that their assumptions are mistaken. In addition, some of the WPA leaders along with one or two ex-military men of the PNC are talking in very militant terms at a time when negotiating skills are at a premium. In the case of the WPA, a party which had long talked of shared governance, it raises the question as to whether it truly believes in that at all, since after being given the opportunity to work with other parties, its leaders, at least, are on the barricades instead. As for some of their ex-military associates from the PNC, they are more familiar with giving orders and physical action than doing the slog work to achieve political compromises. And contrary to what they or the WPA might be tempted to think, a national unity government cannot be imposed by force or threats or demonstrations; it is a contradiction in terms and a denial of the democratic process.
And if all of this were not enough, the police had their own contribution to make to the fiasco of last week, and it was no small contribution. With their customary uncertain aim, Georgetown’s finest fired rubber pellets at some marchers and succeeded in hitting a child and elderly women, among several others, some of whom were not even part of the march. It was nothing short of a disgrace. Illegal though the march may have been, the participants were unarmed and had not damaged anyone or anything and gave no evidence of being about to do so or of representing a genuine threat. After a lapse of two days the Ministry of Home Affairs said it had not instructed that rubber bullets be used, while the Commissioner of Police added his ‘It wasn’t me’-style comment. However, following the incident the police had issued a totally unsatisfactory statement which contained no kind of apology, merely describing what had happened as “unfortunate.” The Ministry has ordered a probe, and the least that can be expected is that it should be a serious investigation and that whoever really did take the decision, will be disciplined and not given just a slap on the wrist.
As if that were not bad enough, the police did not finish there, and decided to prosecute some of the marchers. One might have thought they had done enough damage injuring people and frightening children in nearby schools, without aggravating a difficult situation further by giving a further profile to certain marchers and according them a kind of martyr status. Apparently,
however, common sense is not much in evidence in the GPF. This is in a context where they still have not charged Mr Lumumba, for example, for an alleged assault at a polling station on Election Day.
As for the mass of the Guyanese public, they still live in hope – admittedly fast diminishing – that a little common sense all around will lead us in a more fruitful direction.