Almost 22 years after local government elections (LGE) were last held here, political parties, groups and individuals yesterday submitted their nominations to contest for seats in municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) across the country.
The last local government elections were held on August 8, 1994 and although the law stipulates that they are to be held every three years, this has not happened and the upcoming March 18th polls are seen as historic. The elections will be held under a new hybrid system of Proportional Represen-tation (PR) and First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) and the number of municipalities being contested have increased to nine with 62 NDCs also being in play.
In the biggest municipality, Georgetown, yesterday, a mixture of established political parties, minor political parties, community groups and individuals, young and old, participated in Nomination Day and submitted their candidates for the polls at the Edward Luckhoo building on Waterloo Street. Members of the diplomatic corps were on hand to observe as nominations were presented to Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) officials.
The bigger parties, the APNU+AFC coalition and the PPP/C turned out with their supporters but the mood was low-key compared to general elections.
Groups comprising youths also sought to dip their toes into politics and spoke of being role models. “We want to show them that as young people, we can let our voices be heard, we can get into the arena of decision making and we can as young people work towards the development of our country and society as a whole,” Clayon Halley of the group Youth for Local Government told Stabroek News.
His group will be contesting in all the areas of Georgetown under the PR component and five members are also contesting as individuals within their constituency under the FPTP component.
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 PR and FPTP.
Essentially, 50% or half of the number of councillors of each Local Authority Area will be elected through the PR component and the other 50% through the FPTP or Constituency component.
Only voluntary groups and political parties can contest in the PR aspect of LGE and these groups and parties submit a list and seats are allocated based on the votes gained with the party having to select their councillors from the list submitted.
Voluntary groups and political parties can also contest any or all of the seats under the FPTP component of the elections. Further, under this component, an individual candidate can contest for a seat in the constituency in which he/she is registered and resides. The candidate(s) must be living in the constituency being contested.
According to Halley, the number one priority for his group is to review all the plans, strategies and projects that the present city council would have been undertaking over the past years up to 2016. “We want to review those to ensure that it is what is best for the citizens of Georgetown and ensure that it does not put a strain on the citizens of Georgetown in any way,” he said.
He added that they will also be looking at activities and projects to develop Georgetown via a consultative process. He said that they see participating in the LGE as an opportunity to be role models while a few of the candidates are into politics as well.
Going forward, Halley said, their plan is to go out to meet the people and they will do a lot of groundwork. He said that they have found that a lot of people do not understand what local government is nor the reason why they have to vote in the polls.
This was echoed by APNU+AFC representative Oscar Clarke who led the coalition team yesterday. According to him, GECOM “haven’t been very good at their education, still not doing as much education as I think they should be doing so we are faced with the position of having to go out there and do a lot of education and we only have five weeks to do it.”
He defended the participation of the bigger parties in LGE saying that the disadvantage of staying away as called for by some members of society, is that the smaller groups do not have the capacity to “give information to people” and bring them out in large numbers. He said that in LGE, it is more difficult to get people to go to the polls and only by getting the people who are in this business to go out there and appeal to the people, could there be greater participation. “Small parties and individuals do not have the capacity to do that,” he said.
According to Clarke, the coalition is very confident of winning in all the constituencies contested. “It’s a new era, it’s a new set of circumstances because we have a new system and I’m sure that the individual councillors who would be coming in to represent their constituencies are going to be very focused on their constituencies,” he said.
He added that the coalition’s team is mixed and brings a blend of men and women, young, middle-aged and old and he expects that the new council will bring a new sense of urgency to the development of their individual constituencies. The constituencies will make a big difference in the way the council is operating, he said.
14 of 15
Clarke told Stabroek News that under the FPTP component, the coalition will be contesting 14 of 15 constituencies and are supporting an independent candidate in constituency 10 which is Albouystown/Charlestown. “As APNU+AFC we are contesting everything in the other half of the elections,” he said, referring to the PR component. “There are a few NDCs in which we are not contesting as a party,” he added.
The PPP/C representatives who were among the first to present their candidates, did not speak to the media.
“We are not a political party, we are not beholden to anyone, we can actually have a dissenting voice, we can be a dissenting voice if a dissenting voice is needed,” Michael Leonard of the group Team Legacy said. Team Legacy is contesting in six constituencies under both PR and FPTP. “We can truly be a representative for our community and fight for those unique needs in our communities,” he said.
Leonard related that the process yesterday was simple and straightforward and his team will now go back and speak to the people, see what they need, tell of some of their plans for the areas and work out a plan to address them. “We don’t want people to assume we have answers to all the questions, we want to work together with the business community in the area, with the people in the area,” he said.
Team Legacy representative Carolyn Caesar-Murray disclosed that they will self-fund their campaign and appealed for persons including businesspersons who want to assist to come on board.
Alfred Parks and Ras Leon Saul will be running for seats in the Georgetown Municipality under the banner of the Healing of the Nation Theocracy Party under the FPTP component.
Parks told Stabroek News that he has lived in his constituency for 30 years and people know him and he knows the requirements for those areas. “I’m living there, I’m not new…I know the requirements of Kitty, I know the requirements of Subryanville,” he said. Saul added that it is about visionary thinking and being out of the box in applying oneself on the ground. He said that enforcement of bylaws and proper management of the city’s affairs are priorities.
Also contesting for an individual seat is Dr Bertrand Stuart, a dentist. He related that he was a city councillor from 1994 to 1997 and represented the Good and Green Guyana. He said that he realised that there was not a lot of focus on the people and communities and thus resigned in 1997. “It was more on politics more than anything else,” he recalled.
He said that he lived in his community for 27 years and is already working with the community and youths. “We feel that infrastructure development is not the only thing to concentrate on…I believe the people especially the young people and I think as a community leader, I would concentrate a lot on the future and the future I believe, has a wealth in the young people, training them, giving them the moral and professional fortitude to continue in society,” he said.
More than 60 years
Gilbert Gomes is contesting the East La Penitence constituency as an independent and said that he lived in the area for more than 60 years and believes that he understands much of the needs of the community. The people in the communities need a lots of hands-on representation from people who are aware of their needs, he asserted.
Campaign manager for Team Benschop, Ronson Grey told Stabroek News that the group is contesting in all 15 constituencies of Georgetown under both components. He said that they plan to reach out to all the people, go in communities and tell them of their plans, the things they plan to change and how to take Georgetown forward.
“First and foremost, we need effective management at City Hall, that is something that we will be addressing. Initially, when we go in there we must assess the situation, there are some changes that will have to be made. We want to do things in a better and efficient manner so that way the residents of Georgetown would benefit from whatever we embark on,” he declared.
According to him, Team Benschop, has the best group and their team is strong and diverse. He related that among their candidates is a vendor with over 40 years’ experience, among others. The team had presented their candidates’ names to GECOM officials in the morning but had to return to resubmit over what Grey described as “a minor paperwork issue” that GECOM asked them to correct.
Ivan Bentham, who said that he is a member of the APNU+AFC government is running as an independent in his constituency of North Lodge/Meadowbrook Gardens. He said while the coalition would have chosen to put up their own people, the Constitution does not bar anyone from running as an individual candidate.
Bentham said that he is well known in his area and has been actively involved in community development having been the head coordinator for the Hadfield Street ground enhancement project for past two years. He said that he would seek to establish an Information Technology centre and a library for students of his area, if elected. He added that his participation would also serve to motivate other young people.
According to Bentham, the coalition knows that he is running and some have wished him good luck. “It’s not like I’m going against the party,” he said, emphasising that he wants to be a model for young people.