Thoughts on Local Government Elections

Within the last year, we had a significant event happen in this country–a change of government after 23 years. It was a welcomed change that the majority of Guyanese longed for. And now, we are about to witness another significant point in Guyana’s history with return of local government elections after over two decades.

20160213mosa telford logoBut even as we approach this historic event, there are deficiencies. Over the past weeks, I questioned a number of people about whether they understood the local government elections process and, sadly, most of these people had little knowledge. The fact of having to vote twice—once for a party or group to look after the affairs of the municipality, and then for an individual to look after the interest of a constituency—was partly or all new information to some folks. Many people also did not know the persons representing their communities.

What I also found is that many young voters were not interested. Some stated that they were not voting and when asked why, they could not give a reason. The hype and large rallies, like we see during general elections, might have helped in some of these cases and I do believe that if these elections had prominence during all the years they were absent, these particular young people would have a better sense of their importance and be more enthusiastic to vote.

There is voter education ongoing but some people don’t read, watch television or even listen to the radio. There was a time when I also had little knowledge about the significance, the process and structure of local government elections. I had to take time to research, study and digest the information. But had it not been for a job at the time, I might not have done so. And the average Guyanese would not do so.

In some areas, candidates have been doing walkabouts and that is excellent. Each candidate should see that as a requirement if they want to gain the confidence of the people. But, sadly, this has not been happening in many communities, hence the reason many people do not know who to vote for.

The funniest thing I heard from one person is that they plan to look at the faces of the candidates and put their X near the best looking one. Of course, that made me laugh, but there is nothing really funny about it because a candidate who really deserves that vote could lose out because of a breakdown in candidate-to-voter information.

I have absolutely no memory of the elections that took place in 1994, yet I have some memories of 1992 when the PPP took office. Specifically, I remember hearing talk about the need for change and controversial talks surrounding Desmond Hoyte and Hamilton Green after the elections. So, why is it that I cannot remember anything concerning local government elections that were held two years later? Is it because such elections are seen as insignificant in this country when in fact there is nothing unimportant about them? The key to building and sustaining any society is about the people having power.

Twenty-two years has simply been too long. Why did we allow this to happen? For those whose voices were constant in calling for these elections over the past years, I celebrate you. It is unfortunate that your voices were not heard before now or were simply ignored.

So, how does a country function when a significant part of the process of selecting representatives to look after the interest of the communities was eliminated? I did a little digging and was told that people who would have participated in the last local government elections would be part of interim management councils and over the years selections were made from among these people in events of migration, resignation or death. But what this says to me is that the power was stripped away from the people. The people had no say in which representatives they wanted for almost two decades. We sat back and watched our communities disintegrate socially and structurally. We lost the pride we once held for the beauty of our capital city because, in many ways, it became a garbage town.

Perhaps it can be said that we were oppressed by the government of the day, which did not want to share the power. Whatever the case, it should not have happened and it should never happen again.

Like many other people, March 18 will be my first time casting my vote in such elections. As to who I will be casting my vote for, the choice for the individual candidate in the area I am voting is quite simple, since there are only two candidates running. However, in terms of the party or group, the choice is a little more difficult.

The debate held last Saturday at the Theatre Guild left me with mixed emotions about what I heard from the candidates. What I loved most is that young people were involved. The absence of female candidates did not surprise me, but it was still a disappointment. I went to the event with an idea of which group I wanted to support, but by the time I left I had a different view. It was the first time I heard so much from any of the candidates. Sherod Duncan, representing APNU+AFC, Michael Leonard, representing Team Legacy, and Clayton Halley, representing Youth For Local Government Elections, impressed me the most. Duncan was sharp and seemed more prepared in answering the questions, while Leonard and Halley had that unpretentious feel in the way they responded. Nevertheless, I got the impression that most of the candidates were sincere and would work in the interest of the people if elected.

Like many others, I am looking forward to casting my vote. And whatever the outcome, I hope that we can see the different groups and individuals working together. We have the spirit of unity and the promise of resources being fairly distributed across the nation. That is what keeps me grounded and I hope that the return of local government elections means that never again will we, the people, allow any government to silence our voices.

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