Sixteen constituencies have been removed from 14 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in what Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has described as gerrymandering in a bid to reduce PPP/C wins at the upcoming local government elections.
The Order for the removal of the constituencies was signed by Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan and published in an extra-ordinary gazette on June 7th. Up to press time, Bulkan could not be reached by Stabroek News for comment on the purpose of the order.
Jagdeo said on Thursday that the order is a clear attempt by the governing coalition to influence results by restructuring the boundaries of LGAs.
At the launch of a Government Public Awareness and Stakeholders Education Project, in the compound of the Public Buildings on June 15th, Bulkan announced that eight new NDCs and a new township would participate in the upcoming local government polls but he did not announce that for 14 existing LGA’s there will be fewer constituency elections.
Jagdeo has criticised this action, while noting that such major changes require a full-fledged press conference.
“Without any consultation with the NDCs [Neighbourhood Democratic Councils] he has just unilaterally created these new bodies but what is even more insidious is that in 14 NDCs he has tampered with the constituencies. In tied areas he has either reduced or created new constituencies…they know they can’t win the local government elections. They were slaughtered the last time and will be slaughtered again but now they have resorted to gerrymandering the boundaries and to creating new NDCs favourable to the APNU+AFC to make it look like they have won more areas,” Jagdeo told reporters at his weekly press conference.
A comparison of the changes to the LGAs with the gazetted results of the 2016 LGE appears to support Jagdeo’s analysis.
The LGAs which have been restructured are those where the governing APNU+AFC either did not contest, was tied with the PPP/C foaccr the number of seats won or lost the proportional representation vote to the PPP/C by one seat.
In the Municipality of Rose Hall, where the PPP/C won the proportional representation vote by one seat in 2016, the number of constituencies has been increased from seven to eight. The number of seats have, however, been reduced in Evergreen/ Paradise, Aberdeen/Zorge-en-vlygt, Malgre Tout/Meerzoergen, La Grange/Nismes, Toevlugt/Patentia, Caledonia/Good Success, Woodlands/Farm, Mahaicony/Abary, Zeelust/Rosignol, Blairmont/Gelberland, Ordnance Fortlands/No. 38, Adventure/Bushlot and No. 52-74.
The listing forms the schedule attached to the Municipal and Neighbourhood Democratic Council (Participating Local Authorities) Order 2018 with the total number of seats, the number of councillors in respect of the Proportional Representation component and the number of constituencies and councillors in respect of the first-past-the-post component identified.
Gerrymandering is derived from name of Governor Elbridge Gerry, of the US state of Massachusetts, whose administration enacted a law in 1812 defining new state senatorial districts. One of the districts so defined was illustrated in a satirical cartoon as a salamander and the “Gerrymander” was born.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court chose not to rule on the constitutionality of gerrymandering by state legislatures. The last ruling on the issue was the 14th Amendment, adopted in the 1860’s after the Civil War, which required that electoral districts be roughly equal in population.
Guyana’s laws makes similar provisions. Under the Local Democratic Organs Act the minister is empowered to divide Guyana as he deems fit into regions, sub-regions, neighbourhoods and people’s co-operative units.
He is, however, constrained into taking into account the population, physical size, geographical characteristics, economical resources and the existing and planned infrastructure of the area. Additionally, he must consider the most rational management and use of such resources and infrastructure with a view to ensuring that the area is or has the potential to become economically viable.
It is not clear which of if any of these considerations guided the actions of Bulkan in restructuring the 14 identified LGAs or in naming the eight new LGAs
President David Granger has previously indicated that it is his intention to have in each administrative region a capital town which will be the economic centre of that region.
Mahdia has repeatedly been identified as that town for Region Eight and has now been named as such. The other named LGAs are Moruka/Phoenix Park, Kitty/Providence, Nile/Cozier, Lamaha/Yarrowkabra, Hauraruni/Yarrowkabra, Plegt Anker/Kortberaad, Wyburg/Caracas and Aranaputa/Upper Burro Burro.