Stay out of neighbourhood council polls

-Lincoln Lewis urges political parties

Political parties should not be participating in elections in the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) since their presence can polarise the atmosphere and lead to a further loss of trust on the part of the citizens in the political process, trade unionist Lincoln Lewis says.

“There is a culture which pervades this society and which we have experienced, whereby when persons of any political party express an alternative opinion to their leaders in Georgetown, they are attacked, demonised and marginalised. There must be growth in our politics, which includes respecting the right to dissent or hold alternative views to that of the establishment. Such actions are healthy for germination of ideas that can lead to growth and development of the nation’s body politic,” Lewis, the head of the Guyana Trades Union Congress wrote in a letter to Stabroek News yesterday.

Lincoln Lewis
Lincoln Lewis

He said that the announced intent of the APNU+AFC and PPP/C that they are going to be participating in the local government elections (LGE) is an indication that the national politicians have an interest in determining and occupying every political space, stifling the free-spiritedness and local camaraderie of the people.

On Friday, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan announced that local government elections, which have been delayed for almost two decades, would be run off on March 18th next year. The polls, which will be held in the nine towns and 62 NDCs, have not been held since 1994, although the constitution stipulates that they are to be held every three years.

Stabroek News reported on Monday that although no formal decision has yet been made, APNU and the AFC are likely to contest the LGE next year as an alliance. The opposition People’s Progres-sive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has already signalled that it will be contesting in all the various areas.

Lewis, yesterday, recalled that in the 1994 LGE, then PNC leader Desmond Hoyte took a decision that the PNC would contest the municipalities and in the NDCs, citizens would form themselves into groups and participate with a view of managing their own affairs. “Though the view is held that Hoyte’s decision was out of concern for losing at the NDCs, it was one of the most progressive steps in this nation in furtherance of realising the devolution of power to the people at the grassroots level. This was an act of deepening and strengthening the people’s right to self-determination. This nation must strive to build on it,” he wrote.

Enshrined

Moves to involve more community groups and individual participation in LGE have since been enshrined in legislation. The Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Act of 2009 provides for LGE to be held in all of the existing Local Authority Areas in Guyana using a mixed electoral system of Proportional Representation and First-Past-the-Post.

50% or half of the number of councillors of each Local Authority Area will be elected through the Proportional Representation component and the other 50% through the First-Past-the-Post or Constituency component. This system provides opportunities for voluntary groups, political parties and individual candidates to contest for seats in the Municipalities and NDCs.

Only voluntary groups and political parties can contest in the Proportional Representation aspect of LGE and they can also contest any or all of the seats under the First-Past-the-Post component of the elections. The candidate(s) must be living in the Constituency being contested.

Under the First-Past-The-Post component, an individual candidate can contest for only one seat in a single Constituency in which he/she is registered and resides.

According to information from the Guyana Elections Commission, each Local Authority Area is divided into a given number of Constituencies, i.e. half of the number of seats on the Municipality or NDC, for the purpose of electing individual candidates to represent the respective Constituencies. A Constituency in the context of LGE is a specifically demarcated part of a Municipality or NDC as defined and identified by its given boundaries.

In principle

Bulkan had previously told Stabroek News that his party would, in principle, be happy if non-political persons come forward for the management of the communities. He had pointed out that according to the new local government legislation, 50% of the seats have to be contested on a constituency basis. The minister had said that they would support non-political management of the NDCs and while he was not saying that the coalition will not be contesting the local government polls, they are also prepared, if no strong candidate is put forward, to field a candidate from the coalition in a district.

Lewis wrote that LGE is about allowing the people to elect leaders from their communities to manage their affairs within their neighbourhood. “It is not about the national leaders of Freedom House, the APNU headquarters, the AFC headquarters determining who in which neighbourhood must be on the list. We must build on 1994 and allow the communities the opportunity to heal and build a natural cohesiveness free of partisan party political influences in the most basic, yet still vital, aspect of government,” he said.

According to Lewis, there is legitimate concern, “given that the statements coming from the national leaders reflect an intention to control the communities and also determine for the communities who must be their candidates and representatives, which goes against the grain of the right to self-determination.” He argued that this behaviour is synonymous with the appointment of Interim Management Committees (IMCs) by the former PPP/C government. The message being sent to the people is that national leaders are going to take their right away to determine who must be their local leaders, he wrote.

“This act of political parties running in the NDCs will not contribute to the devolution of power or shared governance consistent with the spirit and intent of the constitution. What it will surely do is ascribe more power and authority to central government and political headquarters than the constitution intended. It also represents a new form of political imposition and makes a mockery of respecting the tiers of government,” Lewis asserted.

According to the trade unionist, there are political parties who in some communities cannot muster three votes but by joining a coalition where they are recognised, they create opportunities to enter communities or be assigned seats on the pretext of political representation. “This is not representation. It is the use of association to impose one’s will on the people and goes against the grain of democracy and what elections ought to be,” he wrote.

He declared that the political parties should not be participating in elections in the NDCs since their presence can polarise the atmosphere and lead to a further loss of trust on the part of the citizens in the political process. The opportunity presents itself for each party to mobilise and contest in each of the towns. In doing so, the votes they acquire will reflect the support they have among the populace, Lewis said.

“Elections allow for gauging the will of the people in terms of who they want to represent them. This basic tenet must not be lost sight of or sacrificed for any individual or group benefit. Local government gives the communities the opportunity to identify and elect their leaders and this must be respected. The society must agitate for and accept no less,” the trade unionist declared.