For months, PPP/C leaders and supporters have accused the APNU+AFC government of plotting to rig the 2020 general elections and those concerns have now burst into the open with President David Granger’s decision to unilaterally name 84-year-old retired justice James Patterson as the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Aside from the opposition PPP/C, condemnation of Granger’s decision has come from civil society and in several of the statements, the PNC’s history of rigging elections has been cited or referred to obliquely.
In its statement on Saturday expressing grave concern about Granger’s decision and calling upon him to issue reasons why 18 names supplied by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo were rejected, the Guyana Bar Association referred carefully to the country’s past elections.
It said “The unilateral appointment of the Chairman can lead to a loss of public confidence in the electoral process which is entirely undesirable having regard to Guyana’s experience in past elections”.
Under PNC rule – now the PNCR and led by Granger – general elections were rigged in 1964, 1968, 1973 and 1980. A referendum held in 1978 was also widely recognized as rigged and decried as a `riggerendum’.
In its statement also on Saturday condemning Granger’s unilateral decision and raising questions about Patterson’s suitability to be chairman, the Guyana Human Rights Association also referred to the country’s rigging past.
“The decision by President Granger to set aside the constitutionally agreed process revives memories of the previous PNC-led administration which, due to its flagrant rigging of elections, cemented Guyana’s reputation as the democratic pariah of the Caribbean during that period. Are we heading in that direction again?” the GHRA asked.
The question of whether the country is heading in that direction has been raised before by others and analysts say that the APNU+AFC government will face increasing scrutiny and questions over its decision to name Patterson as Chairman.
In his column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran addressed past rigged elections.
“The victim of rigged elections in Guyana since 1968 has been the people of Guyana, but more specifically, the PPP and its supporters. It took 24 years of hard and painful struggle and suffering for democracy to be restored during which time Guyana’s economic and social … development were severely damaged and from which, according to the recent IDB report, we are still recovering. The deep fears of the PPP arising from the initial impasse over the selection of the Chair and now the eventual breakdown of the process, must be instilling deep fear and anguish over the future and the prospect of being rigged out of office for another twenty-five years.
“Economic and social recovery after 1992, which commenced during the Hoyte regime beginning in 1985, has been painfully slow, notwithstanding the restoration of democratic rule. But the modest progress made so far, which has entrenched a tolerable level of engagement between the government and opposition, will be destroyed unless democracy remains the basis of governance in Guyana. Democracy and free and fair elections are the foundation of social and economic progress. They are the basis on which good governance will be built and corruption eliminated.
They are the foundation for the continuing discourse on constitutional reform and the implementation of APNU+AFC’s manifesto promises on a new system of government which will terminate the ‘winner take all system.’ They are vitally necessary to build consensus on how to manage and spend oil revenue when it begins to flow and in relation to which the opposition should have a major role.
Guyana’s entire future depends on the strengthening of its democracy, not the creation of situations where a large section of the population begins to question whether Guyana is going to return to the past. Many people now view this as a frightening possibility.
“The government is under an obligation to demonstrate its fidelity to the democratic process in order to sustain the confidence of the Guyanese people. Unless it takes credible steps to do so, the fears are not going to subside”.
In Friday’s edition of this newspaper, Stabroek News in a page one comment said “…the President cannot be oblivious to the public skepticism that the party he leads, the PNCR, which unashamedly rigged general elections in 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985, is yet to establish its commitment to electoral democracy.”
Observers have noted that western countries and multilateral financing institutions are likely to pay careful attention to the political impasse that has arisen over the GECOM Chairmanship and this can have various repercussions.