Two residents of Aishalton are disputing a letter writer’s claim that the nomination process for a toshao and councillors of Aishalton Village Council was not free and fair and that it was not understood by everyone present because the Returning Officer did not speak in Waphichan when asked to.
Former toshao Tony James and incumbent councillor Mackie Casimero on Saturday told Stabroek News that from all reports they have had, Leah Casimero, the letter writer, was impolite to the returning officer, who, despite her insistence for him to speak in Wapichan even though people understood what was being said, carried out his job professionally.
In Leah Casimero’s letter, published on May 19, she said, a grave injustice was committed against the Wapichan people of Aishalton when the returning officer “refused to provide explanations of the legal procedure in Wapichan language.”
Three candidates are vying for the position of Toshao in the elections, which will be held tomorrow in Aishalton. The three are the incumbent Douglas Casimero who is being challenged by Michael Thomas and Bernard Conrad, a former toshao.
James and Mackie Casimero claimed that Leah Casimero was being disruptive because of the challenge being posed to her own candidacy as a councillor for one of the 12 seats up for grabs and the challenge being posed by a younger candidate for the post of toshao, which her father, Douglas Casimero, is seeking to retain.
James said that Leah Casimero was probably setting the stage for a challenge to the elections results if neither she nor her father are elected. He claimed they are both known supporters of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which is also campaigning on their behalf.
James said that PPP activists are not the only ones supporting a candidate and he hopes that the young candidate who is campaigning without the backing of any established political party will win the elections. There are 694 eligible voters.
Leah Casimero, in her letter, said the returning officer committed a grave injustice when the toshao asked for an explanation in Wapichan and the officer disregarded him on two occasions.
She said when the officer asked if everyone understood the explanations, “some responded loudly in the affirmative, others did not respond” and since the explanations lacked clarity to her, she “responded in the negative.” She said the officer summed up by saying, “The majority said they understand so we could move on.” Mackie Casimero said that Leah Casimero, a University of Guyana graduate, was just trying to be difficult at a time when people were trying to get through the process. Even two known women who are not very versatile in the English language, she said, told her they understood the process and they could not understand how Leah Casimero did not understand.
Leah Casimero questioned, “How could the officer refuse the Wapichan people explanations in their language and more so when it was requested by the Toshao?”
James said that Leah Casimero, quoting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to suit her purpose, was disingenuous as people understood. If they did not, he said, that would have been another matter.
Leah Casimero said that without conducting a vote, the officer claimed that the majority understood and questioned whether “some loud voices validly constitute a majority.” She further questioned whether in a case where only one person did not understand, if that person was not entitled to seek clarification and for clarification to be given.
She said that in February President David Granger visited the Quality Bilingual Education Programme for Wapichan Children’s office at Aishalton, where he praised the Wapichan people’s efforts to develop an education programme that respects their culture and language. He also said his government would be providing Amerindians with translators in the law courts so they could better understand the legal proceedings and express themselves freely.
In light of these, she said, she expected at least, the possible toshao candidates to voice their support for the Wapichan explanations, but they were silent.