In its latest 2018 report, Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), having considered democratic changes in some 180 countries worldwide, claimed that with the possible exception of the African continent, democracy is in decline around the world. While in 2017, most people still lived in a democracy, it is under threat in countries that are home to about a third of the world´s population: USA, India, Turkey, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Hungary, Venezuela, Suriname, etc. In these countries, media autonomy, freedom of expression, the rule of law, etc. have declined to a point where elections are now less meaningful. Ironically, whatever progress Africa has made, it has not been immune from that aspect of democratic decay that has recently had our tongues wagging. In August 2017, the Economist claimed that some 15 countries in Africa had already or were planning to roll back constitutionally-provided executive term limits. And in this respect, Guyana is not unique in this region: Venezuela, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador, etc. have all gone that route.
Depending on the strength of their democratic institutions, V-Dem placed countries in four categories: ‘liberal democracies’, with free and fair multiparty elections, a robust rule of law, independent media and strong separation of powers between executive, judiciary and legislative branches; ‘electoral democracies’, in which elections are relatively free and fair but the above ‘checks to strongman rule’ are less effective; ‘electoral autocracies’, in which multiparty elections and limited civil liberties are underpinned by repression, censorship and intimidation, and ‘closed autocracies’, in which outright dictatorship is at best dressed in a fig leaf of rigged elections.
Utilising an historical perspective and based upon the above four categories, let us try to resolve the question: where is present-day Guyana? If we begin in the late 1940s, unlike its Caribbean Community partners, Guyana has never approximated to a liberal democracy. We know that colonies cannot be liberal democracies but colonialism can set the stage for countries to so become. No such luck for Guyana, for even while proclaiming their attachment to free and fair elections, etc., the British and their allies were doing everything in their power – frequently gerrymandering constituencies, blatantly buying off voters, changing the constitution to proportional representation, etc. – to rid themselves of the ‘communist’ PPP! The PPP’s fetishism about the media came from those days when the press was heavily stacked against it, publishing all manner of anti-communist garbage…..