Why the PPP is not in the “mood” for local democracy

Clement Rohee – General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party and Minister of Home Affairs – informed the nation at a press conference at Freedom House, 2nd June, 2014, reportedly (Guyana Chronicle 3rd June, 2014) that the country was not in a “mood” for local government elections.

Rohee said: “This is a question of timing, judgment call and what the mood is. The party may be ready, as a party, including its machinery, but that doesn’t mean that we are an electioneering party. You have to take timing, the mood of the people and, at the end of the day, it’s a judgment call and these are censures which politicians are attuned to before making such a call….”

Norman Whittaker, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, three months earlier in an interview (Stabroek News, 7th March, 2014) said that “The vast majority of the populace is not prepared for the holding of local government polls by August 1st.” He added, “…to go ahead would result in the waste of a lot of money”. Moreover, according to Stabroek News, the Minister assumed that “if elections were to be held now, only about 30 per cent of the population would respond. The minister said that “Guyanese typically do not attach much significance to elections, even at the national level, and he expressed concern that local elections might be treated with even less regard”.

20140508APNUPresident Donald Ramotar had similar misgivings about the utility of Local Government elections. He stated, more recently on 7th June, 2014 (Demerara Waves), that he might be prepared to opt for national rather than local government elections since the combined opposition has now robbed the ruling party of its majority while proving to be a stumbling block to national development by refusing to approve “budgetary expenditures and government bills”.

He suggested that “I would prefer to go to Local Government Elections but I can’t shut my eyes to the political reality that exists and make a bland promise that I would go to Local Government Elections tomorrow as I would have done had we had the majority in the parliament at this point in time and we would not have been in the position that we are in today.”

It is clear that government leaders, while acknowledging the need for local government elections, do not see them as necessary. It is rather a matter of choice, timing, opportunity and circumstance. But can it, or should it, be seen in such a light when it is a constitutional requirement of governance, a mandate of the constitution? It is precisely on these grounds that the government has been taken to task by critics and the opposition alike – for seeing political and constitutional obligations as matters of mere choice of its goodwill and beneficence. The PPP, in other words, views democracy as a gift of the ruling party, its protocols and calibration the generosity and goodwill of an all knowing all powerful central committee.

It is not a little ironic, as one letter-writer, Emile Mervin, recently suggested (Stabroek News 8th June, 2014) that the political grandstanding continues even as we note the ecclesiastic zeal of the Party’s 2011 Manifesto for local government elections. The letter noted “On page 42 of the party’s manifesto, for example, the topic is, ‘Reinvigorating Local Government.’ It promised that the next PPP/C government will ‘Ensure, within one year of the 2011 General Elections, that Local Government Elections are held, bringing much needed reinvigoration into local government entities.’ That meant before December 2012.”

There are several reasons for some delays in local government elections. Not least, of course, has been the parliamentary agreement for a Local Government Commission to be followed by legislative reforms. But few, especially those in the ruling party, expected the political shock of 2011. Despite what its pollsters were telling it, the party’s share of the popular vote feel below the 50 percent threshold and robbed it of a majority. And here, it was not just a matter of losing votes to the “new boys” on the bloc – AFC. It was something far more damaging and permanent.

The 2002 census indicates that the population was undergoing some seismic demographic shifts and realignments. Significantly, for example, while it indicated that the African population held its own at about 227,062 – 30 percent – East Indian cohorts, on the other hand, had in fact declined from 396,417 in 1980, 51.93 percent, to 326,277 – or 43.45 percent – a loss of some 70,140 persons. Assuming a 60 per cent voter-eligibility rate it means that East Indians would have lost about 42,000 voters.

To make this clearer and a little more specific, the 2002 census at the same time, indicates that the population of the East Berbice-Corentyne Region (No.6) – a PPP stronghold with a majority of 70 percent East Indians – has fallen from a total of 152, 386 from 1980 to fewer than 123,695 a loss of near 30,000 persons. If 60 per cent of that proportion are also eligible voters then East Indians would have lost at least 70 per cent, if not more, of the 17,000 votes that disappeared from Region No.6.

There is no doubt that the 2012 census would show the same continuing decline in the East Indian population, maybe even below a 40 per cent threshold. Moreover, if UN population studies are correct then the decline would be not only the result of migration but, more importantly, in the decline in the fertility of East Indian women now estimated at below the national fertility rate of 2.9 percent.

The PPP has to face up to these numbers in its approach to local government elections. It is here that its demurral is located.

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