Realm of absurdity

Last week Guyana entered the realm of the truly absurd. The last vestiges of hope that anyone might have entertained that we could inch towards a more rational ordering of our affairs, now appear to have been dashed. The process by which it began to dawn on the population that the connection of the politicians (or many of them, at least) with the real world was more tenuous than traditionally supposed, began with an interview with President Ramotar which appeared in the Sunday Chronicle on February 12. Anyone who thought that what they had read in that edition of the state paper was just a figment of their fevered imagination, was soon disabused of the notion when Dr Luncheon endorsed what the President had said. In other words, the head of state didn’t lose his grip on an off day; he reflected an official party position.

The essence of that position is that the November 2011 election was rigged by the opposition – “They did a lot of wicked things in South Georgetown and some other areas,” Mr Ramotar told interviewer Parvati Persaud-Edwards. He went on to say that they got PPP/C polling agents out of the stations by “terrible hostility and threatening violence and so on… they penetrated GECOM and controlled (to some extent) the elections machinery, where they were not even taking instructions from the Chairman or the Chief Elections Officer and they were doing a lot of manipulation at that point in time.

“Even with the counting, I understand that they kept people far away so that they could not see what was happening. That was confirmed to me by independent observers.” And by how much should the PPP/C have won, according to this account? “My own realistic assessment,” said the head of state – apparently in all seriousness – “was that we had probably between 52%-53%.” He certainly was ‘convinced’ that his party had won over 50%.

Well the next question which automatically must have jumped into the astonished reader’s mind is why should he agree to be sworn in as President of a minority government if his party had evidence that it had actually obtained an overall majority. He was ready for that one, and volunteered, “We wanted to ensure that there was no breakout of violence, because we think that would have held back our country if we went down that road. As far as the development of Guyana was concerned it would have had a very negative effect and so we chose at that point in time to call off the recount; but that was not the only reason.” Given the dynamite nature of his statements, it would have been nice to know what the other reasons were.

To take Mr Ramotar’s statements at face value for the moment, it should be noted that amid the fuzz he has made some rather specific allegations which are amenable to verification. In particular, he pointed fingers at the integrity of Gecom staff. In our Thursday edition, we published a brief comment by Gecom Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, who said that Mr Ramotar had told him the commission “did nothing wrong,” but that the elections-day staff “was anti-PPP.” While Dr Surujbally acknowledged that there had been some “singular occurrences” on polling day where staff did not follow instructions, on the whole the staff was “well-trained,” and that this conclusion had been supported by elections observers. It was Commissioner Vincent Alexander in the same edition who quite rightly pointed out that you cannot separate the institution of Gecom from its staff; if the staff manipulated election results, then there is a problem with Gecom, and no casuistry on the part of Mr Ramotar can alter that. In addition he adverted to the fact that the PPP had done a volte face, because when the opposition had raised concerns about Gecom, the PPP/C had defended it.

The observers are critical in this story; there is nothing in their reports to substantiate what the PPP is now claiming occurred in polling stations, and it cannot be because they weren’t present in a number of them. In addition, the OAS made clear that it was present when the tabulations were done in Gecom headquarters, and there has been no suggestion from them that employees were not taking instructions from the Chief Elections Officer. Furthermore, aside from an incident early in the morning at Plaisance, when President Ramotar himself went to vote and opposition supporters behaved badly, what is on the media record in south Georgetown particularly, is the unacceptable behaviour of certain PPP/C representatives, not opposition ones. One of them has since been charged, although nothing has happened in the case of Mr Lumumba.

Not surprisingly, both APNU and the AFC have called on the PPP/C to either provide evidence of their allegations, or retract them. If the governing party ignores this call, the conclusion will have to be that it lacks hard evidence and this whole exercise is not about proving a case to reasonable persons. In addition since a key allusion was to the city’s southern wards, it is clear the allegations are being made specifically against the PNC. Anyone with a little common sense, therefore, would want to know why, if APNU was so inventive as to steal thousands of votes from the PPP/C with all the checks which were in place and with all the observers embedded in polling stations and Gecom HQ, they were so arithmetically challenged that they failed to steal enough votes to give themselves the presidency. No one rigs an election to lose executive power; it simply doesn’t make sense.

And if it were really true that the President accepted a fraudulent result because he did not want “violence,” why is he bringing up the issue now? If indeed it were the case that such a claim could lead to trouble, he would stay silent until he gets to the stage where he is writing his memoirs. The truth of the matter is, however, no reasonable citizen would believe that any party (and particularly the PPP which is so obviously obsessed with power) would sacrifice an overall majority to avoid “violence.” Certainly, in earlier elections the PPP has shown itself quite prepared to confront violent protestors, so what is different now? And in any case, did they not buy a water cannon for just such eventualities?

But this is to treat the President’s claims rationally, when they are not rational, any more than the claims of the youth arm associated with APNU that David Granger had won the presidency were rational. What is interesting is the timing of Mr Ramotar’s ‘revelations.’ No one can have failed to notice that Parliament is now in session, financial bills are under scrutiny, the budget is on the horizon, and the opposition has promised an investigation into the major projects committed to by the last government, including Amaila Falls. The government will not be happy about subjecting itself to financial scrutiny, so it appears the ruling party has dropped an outsize red herring into the mix in the first instance. Behind it all, however, one suspects the objective is a ‘snap’ election. First it massages its traditional constituency into believing that the PNC is up to its old tricks again under the guise of the ‘opposition,’ and has stolen the election from the PPP. Then the constituency will be told that the opposition is using its parliamentary majority to prevent the government from governing.

It should be mentioned that Mr Ramotar added allegations of a racial campaign on the part of APNU to his other accusations, which would be risible were it not so irresponsible, given Mr Jagdeo’s conduct on the hustings before and during the start of the official campaign. That allegation too, would seem to be intended to push certain buttons with the traditional constituency. The problem is that the consequence of all of this is that the PPP/C, led by Mr Ramotar, has now created an environment where it will be difficult to hold talks in good faith with the opposition unless some retraction is forthcoming.

So, to conclude, there are only four hypotheses: first, the allegations are true; if they are, the PPP/C better move quickly to provide credible evidence. Second the ruling party has made a genuine error; if so, it should move to admit this quickly. Third, the PPP/C is suffering from a malignant delusion; if it is, it would make it unfit to govern. And fourth, the senior echelons know the allegations are not true and this is a thoroughly cynical political manoeuvre with the aim of going for another national election sooner rather than later. The purpose would be to win the overall majority they crave, fighting a dirty campaign to try and rally their supporters.

If, as seems plausible, some variant of the last hypothesis is the correct one, then the PPP/C better excise the word ‘democracy’ from its vocabulary.

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