Most of the media attention during the political campaign was focused on then ruling PPP and the then opposition coalition APNU+AFC. The minor parties got sparse coverage. Although coming late, I would like to applaud the minor parties for their courage in offering themselves to the electorate − Marissa Nadir’s The United Force (TUF), Mark Benschop’s Independent Party (IP), Saphier Hussain-Subedar’s National Independent Party (NIP), Vishnu Bandhu’s United Republican Party (URP), Gerald Perreira’s Organisation for the Victory of the People (OVP), and Leon Saul’s Healing The Nation Theocracy Party (HTNTP). Two (UF and URP) contested all the regions and the others some of the regions.
People had expressed much displeasure with the two dominant political parties and wanted other choices. The minor parties offered themselves as distinct choices to the electorate, but they were soundly rejected by the electorate. It is a major disappointment that voters did not give them even a seat to provide the parliament with a balance of power and multi-party governance.
The smaller parties can take consolation in the fact that they fought a good, honest, decent fight and went down in defeat with integrity and respect. They were undeterred in their goal to be an agent of change and to be a choice on the ballot.
Small parties don’t have much chance in Guyana’s two-party political system. Ethnic voting prevents the other parties from gaining traction. Even in developed countries like America, England, and Canada, the minor parties have a tough time challenging the dominance of the two major parties. In the US, the bastion of democracy, the minor hardly wins seats. So, it is quite an achievement for minor parties to get on the ballot in Guyana and they deserve much credit and encouragement from the public.
Since the constitutional change in 1980, it has not been easy for a minor party to qualify to be on the list since it requires numerous signatures and the requisite number of candidates in various regions (minimum six of the ten). The constitution has made it difficult to challenge the larger parties. No effort was made to amend the constitution to democratize the process for independents or small parties to get on the ballot as in other nations.
Getting on the ballot was a cumbersome and expensive venture even for the larger parties, as they also struggled to find the necessary candidates and obtain the minimum number of signatures. It was quite a burden for the smaller parties to raise funds to travel to the interior regions of the country in order to obtain the necessary signatures and they spent tens of millions of dollars to meet the eligibility criteria. The URP leader, Mr Bandhu, for example, had to spend a lot of money to travel to the hinterland regions to meet with prospective candidates and acquire signatures to get on the ballot. The process needs to be changed.
Kudos to the minor parties for just getting on the list – that is a victory and an achievement in and of itself. The nation should salute the leadership, executives, volunteers, candidates, workers and supporters of the minor parties. It is hoped that their defeat will not discourage them from trying again and that they will spend time educating and convincing the voters to consider them in future elections.