UNITED States Senator Edward Kennedy has joined the free and fair elections fight here in what opposition politicians and political observers see as the most important boost to the movement yet.
In one of the strongest statements to date directed at the Guyana Government’s controversial electoral track record, Kennedy urges the administration of President Desmond Hoyte to ensure the coming elections ‘are free and fair.’
It also follows recent electoral knuckle-rapping for Mr. Hoyte from President George Bush and his senior State Department official for this region, Ms Sally Cowal. Opposition leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan welcomed the Kennedy intervention as a ‘slap in the face’ for Mr. Hoyte’s assertions against the fraudulent accusations.
The Kennedy statement, faxed to STABROEK NEWS, says though there has been progress in human rights “the problem of unfair elections in the past has created a lack of confidence in the electoral process which has resulted in a mass exodus of many of Guyana’s, skilled and educated citizens, contributed to the nation’s troubled economy and prevented many of those who remain from having a voice in the future of their country.”
Government disclosed the Senator had written President Hoyte along similar lines last December without giving the “source” of his information. According to an official response, Mr. Hoyte replied to Kennedy’s letter on March 10 identifying “factual errors” which he said had “riddled” the Senator’s letter.
President Hoyte also argued Kennedy “had allowed himself to be misled by persons who had political axes to grind” and hopes he “will take time to study and reflect on” the President’s letter and documents sent him.
The Senator goes on to say:— “In order to create a climate free from intimidation and provide a foundation for fair elections, it is my hope that fundamental civil and political rights will be guaranteed, that opposition candidates will be free to campaign and to travel throughout the country, and that the right to assemble will be unrestricted.”
He also expresses the hope that candidates will have “reasonable access to the media, including the radio stations controlled by the government.” Senator Kennedy expresses concern that “party- controlled Elections Commissions have impeded fair elections. I hope that an Independent Commission will be established to carry out voter registration and conduct the election in a manner open to scrutiny by all parties and press and free from government interference.”
The Senator ends his statement by saying: “It is essential that polling places be free from intimidation and that the ballot be secret. All political parties, independent organisations and independent international observers should have access to the electoral process, including polling places and vote counting.
“The forthcoming elections provide an ideal opportunity for Guyana to demonstrate its commitment to a free and democratic future. At a time when so many countries in our hemisphere have succeeded in restoring and strengthening their democracies, the people of Guyana deserve the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations too.”
Jagan, pointing out Kennedy is one of the most influential politicians in the Democratic party, says the statement “is very, very important.”
“It shows nobody is taking Hoyte seriously when he talks about elections,’ Jagan charged. He said Kennedy was instrumental in restoring democracy in the Philippines with the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“We have a similar situation here and Kennedy’s initiative should be followed by other Senators; the—Jimmy Carter Centre (for free elections) should also send a mission here to see whether the election laws and regulations allow the will of the people to be reflected in free and fair elections,’ Jagan added. Jagan said he had met one of Kennedy’s aides while in Washington in November and has been in touch with the office regularly.
The Kennedy pronouncement was almost immediately followed by hints from Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Mr. A.N.R. Robinson, that he has quietly been prodding Mr. Hoyte on the free and fair elections impasse. Robinson told CANA Radio he can use measures which do not have to be “ostentatious.”
He is however, confident Mr. Hoyte will announce measures which will dispel any doubts about the electoral process. “We cannot ignore the fact that there have been numerous complaints,” Robinson said.
The Trinidad Prime Minister said Mr. Hoyte raised the electoral question with him during last week’s meeting in Barbados between Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and CARICOM Heads of government.
And, just before Mulroney left for the Barbados meeting, the Canadian Council of Churches, (CCC) appealed to him to use his influence in support of free and fair elections here.
The appeal was sent in a letter to Mulroney on the eve of his Barbados visit.
The CCC told the Prime Minister of the concern by Canadians at various levels of the need to link economic recovery in Guyana with “significant reforms in its political system.”
Massive Timber Project Under Discussion
A JOINT Malaysia/ South Korean team arrived in Georgetown on Thursday night for their fourth visit here to set up the framework for a possible investment of/US$110m in the timber industry, including a power plant costing US$20m.
The Malaysian company is SAMLING and the South Korean company SUN KYONG. Sun Kyong is an integrated company with a turnover in 1988 of US$8 bln. It has investments in timber in Indonesia and in Malaysia jointly with Samling and timber accounts for about twenty per cent of its turnover.
Both companies export a large quantity of timber to the US. In 1989 Sun Kyong exported US$397m but they cannot supply the demand and they hope the Guyana operation will help in this respect, reports said.
The companies are looking at the North West District for their operations and at this stage they are going through the forest to inventorise the types of wood found here. Extensive samples were sent to them by the Local company Mondeen Industries Ltd.
Reports say the companies are seriously interested in investing here and have invited a local team to visit South Korea next week for discussions. The head of the Department of International Economic Co-operation (DIEC) Dr. Cecil Rajana and head of the Guyana Natural Resources Agency (GNRA) Mr. Winston King will be going.
And late April, the President of SUN KYONG is due to visit this country.
A Draft proposal from SUN KYONG was submitted in December last and the Guyana Natural Resources Agency, the Department of International Economic Co-operation and the Guyana Forestry Commission have evaluated it. A response is being finalised and is to be discussed in Korea.
If the project fructifies, the joint company will have a general milling operation and export logs for the first five years. After that, logging will cease and the company will manufacture and export end products of a wide variety.