Undercutting the goals of local democracy

Historically, never mind the lip service paid to it, local democratic elections have been a rarity in Guyana: 1959 then 1970, 1994 and finally 2016. This year it will, therefore, be the first time in decades that consecutive elections are being held at the legally appointed time, and the government should be commended for this. However, holding local elections at the prescribed time is only one aspect of any democratic process and an important negative consequence has resulted from it. Regardless of stated intentions to make local democracy relatively independent of the national political parties, given our existing political schisms, as the national political parties seek to utilise them as barometers of national electoral support, frequent elections bring the usual national political divisiveness to the local level.

Many had hoped that local councils would have engaged in self-management that would contribute to healing Guyana’s national ethnic divisiveness, but such has not been the case and if the government proceeds along its current path, it will never be the case. Another important element in national or local democratic process is redistricting: the creation or adjustment of voting districts. Wherever this process takes place, political quarrels ensue and unless they are done transparently and in keeping with international best practices, redistricting will lead to allegations of gerrymandering and political disassociation as is now the case in Guyana,. 

Best practices suggest that elections conducted on the basis of equal suffrage require equality of voting power: in principle no vote should carry disproportionately more weight than another and this usually requires periodic redistricting. It also demands that there should be ‘a high degree of public participation in the process’, which ‘should be reviewed sufficiently in advance of elections in order to minimize the effect of new boundaries on the election results and to avoid instability and voter confusion and disappointment’ (https://www.osce.org/odihr/ elections/16859?download=true). As a practical example of how these matters are best done in 2008, after some three decades, India completed a national redistricting process…..

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