Throughout our history as a self-governing nation, many leaders have treated the people like marionettes. They have held the strings to their emotions, often yanking them to incense them about their opponents or to excite them with promises. When there is a history of division, pain and mistrust, there are those who will continue to remind the people, that today’s decisions must still be based on those past hurts. We have moved a few steps forward, because of the younger generations, but still we see some of the same old patterns in the selection of our leaders.
Local Government Elections occurred on Monday. There was no great excitement. A few questions formed in my mind:
How long will the current major political parties be the only choices?
What choice do we have even when we are disappointed in all of them?
Is there ever a time when the people will have full confidence and trust in the government?
Will there ever be a time when self-aggrandisement in leadership is not obvious?
There are some leaders who are genuine and put the interest of the people first, but often it seems that their work is overshadowed by the corruption and arrogance of others. Still, people always in the majority step up when it is time to elect their leaders. Though the power belongs to the people, many do not own it. Time and time again, people have been manipulated by the starry eyes and smiles of men and women wanting to ascend to positions of power. I do believe that more often than not, they are initially sincere with their promises to the people. But what happens when many eventually find themselves sitting in the seats from where decisions must be made? What happens when they must work to make those promises the people’s truth?
As I wrote two weeks ago, I thought that the voter turnout for the Local Government Elections would be very low based on observations and conversations I had with mostly young people. All were not interested in voting because they either did not see the importance of it or were disappointed by those who were previously elected because no changes occurred in their communities. It has been said that Local Government Elections has never attracted large voter turnout. But many can only draw comparisons to the 2016 elections, since before those the polls were not held since 1994.
Yet a thought occurred to me. Could it be that promises will no longer work to get people to the polls? Could it be that their trust in leaders has finally dwindled and they will not be coerced into voting? Will the 2020 General Elections reflect a similar pattern?
Election morning I quietly contemplated about who should get my vote. The choice to stay away was easy, but as an advocate for the people to exercise their power by using not only their voices, but their votes as well, I could not be a hypocrite.
Where I am registered, there was only one independent candidate contesting under the first-past-the-post system. Still a party had to be decided on and the three choices were of course AFC, APNU and PPP/C. The process of voting itself was hassle free. There were no lines. The people working at the polling stations did not appear to be under any pressure. I left the polling station feeling a sense of uneasiness, however. I was uneasy because I thought I could not have full confidence in either of the political parties since all three have been found wanting and have disappointed the people. And every time there seems to be a transformation, soon we seem to settle back into the old patterns. I was uneasy because I am afraid that nothing much will change.
Local Government is supposed to provide the people the opportunity to have a more intimate relationship with their leaders. The leaders often represent the communities where they were often born or reside. One would imagine that they would do everything within their power to make a change. The people should be able to communicate with them on a regular basis by being able to meet and share ideas through forums, such as public meetings. How could the people not grasp the opportunity to be directly involved in building and strengthening their communities? It is often impossible to meet with ministers to share grievances or ideas. And most times when they do make an entrance in the communities it is for a specific purpose.
There are councillors who complained about not having the resources they needed to fully function after the 2016 elections. Many also were clueless about their duties, exposing the fact that many need an education on the system of local government. But I do believe that if the people see genuine effort, they will exercise patience. While councilors must fight on behalf of the people, the fight is not theirs alone. It is vital that they give the people the opportunity to interact with them as often as possible and do everything within their power to improve the conditions in their communities. Opportunities must be created that can lead to economic growth. It is much easier to build one community than the nation. And if all the local organs are strengthened and the people see that conditions are indeed being improved from a community level, it is then that things will start to change. They will have hope. They will be motivated. They will do their part to make this country a better place. And whenever Local Government Elections occur again, they most likely will not stay away from the polls in such vast numbers.
Some people will never vote on issues. Unquestioning party loyalty remains prevalent, though we hope that things will continue to change. Race also plays a major part in how many people vote; sadly, this is still the case in a multiethnic Guyana. I suppose many feel trapped and cannot step outside their traditional patterns.
Certainly, all politicians must take note of what happened at these Local Government Elections. They should realise that many voters might have finally lost their confidence in voting and will no longer on a large scale be manipulated into voting to remain in the same conditions. The puppet show might be finally be coming to an end and the strings are being cut. But, still, ultimately it is the people who will pay the cost for voter apathy because someone has to lead. With many not exercising their right to vote, even though the choices often may be far from perfect, the worst of the options might ascend to leadership, setting us back time and time again as we still struggle to find our way.