Guyana is a democracy, in spite of overwhelming racial voting, says Sultan Mohamed (‘All over the world in democratic societies people vote race’ SN, March 30).
Mr Mohamed opposes my position that it is not a democracy, as expressed in a letter captioned ‘A legacy in tatters’ SN, March 28) by stating: “Well democracy is evident in Guyana, and the entire world votes race through democracy. The African-American population overwhelmingly supported the first black NYC Mayor David Dinkins, as well as President Barack Obama.”
I have difficulty in comprehending Mr Mohamed’s rebuttal. Dinkins was elected Mayor in spite of the fact that Africans in NYC make up only 22 per cent of the population. Also Africans in the US make up only 13 per cent of the population, yet Barack Obama an African-American was elected president of the United States. That does not suggest racial voting on the part of the non-black population. Or else, how did they get elected?
My arguments over the last ten years are as follows:
1) Yes, indeed people of all tribes and ethnicities vote overwhelmingly for a leader who bears their ethnic or tribal identity. But note this point. How overwhelmingly? Is it 85 per cent? 90 per cent? 95 per cent? 98 per cent? My argument is that in all nations that are considered genuine democracies, you will find a minimum threshold level of each ethnic or tribal group (about 8-10 per cent) who will vote outside their ethnic base. In other words, this group will rise above racial sentiments and are motivated to vote on the issues of the campaign. It is this group that is labelled swing voters, and they make democracy work, namely, the pendulum of power changes from one party to another every few election cycles.
2) In the Guyana case study, the ethnic vote for ethnic parties/leaders is so high (as high as 96 or 97 per cent) that the Indo-ethnic PPP will always win, given the fact that their Indian-ethnic base makes up 48 per cent of the population. [Ed note: The 2002 census puts the figure around 43 per cent.]
Now what is the meaning of this state of affairs? It simply means that the Indo-ethnic PPP that won the last four elections is also guaranteed to win all future elections – unless there is a change in voting habits of the two major ethnic groups, Africans and Indians. This is precisely the condition that controversial columnist Freddie Kissoon has labelled “an elected dictatorship.”
And, this is precisely the reason I have argued that Guyana is not a democracy. In all genuine democracies, the swing voters change their support from one party to another every few cycles – and this produces a change of government. This is a basic tenet of democracy. I do not know any democratic society that elects the same party for twenty or more years. In a nutshell, the excessively high levels of racial voting in Guyana negate the essence and true meaning of democracy. Swing voters do not exist in Guyana. “Every last man votes race in this country [Guyana],” is a quote attributed to an US embassy official in Georgetown in 1990 reported by a Washington Post reporter. And, therefore Guyana is not a democracy. I rest my case.