Free and fair local government elections

Pressed at Wednesday’s Europe Day event on why local government elections have not been held, President Ramotar had this to say:

“As far as local government elections is concerned I cannot be oblivious to the political situation that exists in this country and further I say not.”

If one was to parse this cryptic answer by the President, there is only one plausible inference that can be drawn and this is that the President is holding in reserve the option of calling early general elections and therefore preparations for long-awaited local government elections cannot begin. It may also be the case that the government has no desire to hold either the general or local government elections but is simply using one to excuse the absence of the other. The President’s declaration that he will say nothing further on the matter is also exceedingly disappointing. The electorate expects, nay demands, that the President be forthcoming on all the details surrounding the unconscionably delayed local government polls and his reasoning.

Whatever his intention, President Ramotar has now confirmed all of the suspicions in the public domain about why local government elections haven’t been called as yet. His referencing of the “political situation” signals that the PPP/C is concerned only with holding on to the executive. Since this means waiting for the opportune moment to call general elections so as to regain an outright majority or to secure the best possible margin, the President is telegraphing clearly that local government elections, which have been due since 1997, have become the casualty of a broader political game. Being denied the reins of government for 24 years because of rigged elections has created within the PPP an irreducible obsession with ensuring that control of the government is not lost again. The rich irony, of course, is that it is now denying local government elections to the people.

So all of the supposed reasons given by the General Secretary of the PPP, Mr Rohee and the Minister of Local Government, Mr Whittaker as to why local government elections could not be held as yet are spurious and pure propaganda. These had ranged from the Guyana Elections Commission not being prepared for these elections, swiftly put to rest by the electoral body, to the population not being sufficiently educated about the new system of voting that will be used. Shameful. This line was maintained by another of its propagandists, Mr Hydar Ally via a letter in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek. The government is clearly beginning to feel the heat and it should be put under more pressure as there is no credible reason for withholding these elections.

A government that can so callously and calculatingly deny the right of the people to decide the membership of the councils that make vital decision on the communities in which they live cannot claim to be championing any form of democracy. To the contrary, it should properly be seen as the adopting of an anti-democratic stance. There is no circumstance under which local government elections which are so long overdue should be denied to the public because the ruling party and government are computing how to stay in office for another term. For each day that the PPP denies these elections, it marches in the direction of some of the very anti-democratic traits it has accused its arch-rivals, the PNC of.

In the 17 years that local government elections have been due, there have been several periods where these have not been possible because of the intractability of political disputes such as the aftermath of the 1997 general elections and the havoc wrought by the 2005 Great Flood. Aside from these there has been much foot dragging and filibustering mainly by the ruling party as it proceeded with its various plans. This year, there is nothing on the horizon to stop elections to renew the local government system except for the PPP’s infatuation with hanging on to executive power for the sake only of executive power and its trappings.

Dozens of the neighbourhood democratic councils are barely functioning. There is little oversight of their finances, according to the reports of the Auditor General. In these circumstances they become vehicles for impropriety and are unaccountable to the people that they are really supposed to serve. This is the condition that the PPP/C government is fostering by tampering with elected councils and refusing to renew their mandate.

There is a great stubbornness in the PPP once executive power is at stake. It will take the voices and actions of the people to convince it to change course. Stabroek News is already dedicated to this cause and will be using a portion of its front page each day to press for local government elections. However, the people in neighbourhoods, communities and villages must decide if they want to have greater and better control of their daily existence by the opportunity to elect their own leaders. If they do, then their voices must be heard. It is the stuff of democracies, it is what has been philosophized about for centuries. However, for it to occur, people have to be stirred from their slumber and be prepared to raise their voices in the cry for free and fair local government elections.

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