Compromised election

It is no secret that the City Council cannot manage the city, but now we know that they cannot manage a democratic election either. On Thursday, March 15, that august body re-elected Ms Patricia Chase-Green to a third term as Mayor of Georgetown, and Mr Akeem Peters as her deputy. “We have to work together. 2018 I foresee being the best year for Georgetown … this is not about politics this is about service,” the new Deputy gushed at the end of the meeting. He is wrong. This is all about politics and not at all about service.

The meeting ended with the assembled Councillors chorusing lustily,‘Let us co-operate for Guyana’, perhaps the ultimate in paradoxical endings when some persons had been deliberately excluded from genuine participation, and compromised elections can do Guyana nothing but harm. But those who inhabit City Hall, it seems, are oblivious to the fact that we live in an epoch where the zeitgeist has changed; gone are the days when there was manipulation, party paramountcy and pretence democratic procedures in order to secure a particular electoral outcome. Nowadays, genuine democracy does not just have to be practised, it has to be seen to be practised.

But our APNU Councillors – or at least, many of them ‒ are stuck in a time-warp which belongs in a long gone era, and they set everything up as though they were in a minority and were under threat of losing control of the city. First, when PPP/C Councillor Khame Sharma introduced a motion to hold the vote by secret ballot, it was soundly quashed. Nineteen Councillors – all from APNU – ‘co-operated’ to defeat it, with only Councillors Bisham Kuppen of the PPP/C and Sherod Duncan and Lionel Jaikaran of the AFC voting to bring the ballot into line with the standard democratic practice which obtains in every open society.

Now it wasn’t as if this was even necessary, since as indirectly indicated above APNU enjoys an overwhelming majority in the council, and no secret ballot would have secured a different outcome. So why was it, therefore, that former General Secretary of the PNCR Oscar Clarke who happens to be Chairman of the council’s Finance Committee felt it necessary to table a motion to have the ballot decided by a show of hands? (It might be added that needless to say, this motion was passed by the usual embarrassingly large majority.) One can only surmise that the answer is that those who rule in the party either at the local or the central level or both, wanted to keep a watch on their own party members; none of them, it appears, are to be allowed to stray into the territory of a little independence of thought.

Having arranged that little stratagem, one would have thought that what came next was even less necessary. But no, never underestimate the capacity of the Chief Citizen and the city’s leading bureaucrat for overkill. After Ms Chase-Green had been elected unopposed to the office of Mayor, the meeting progressed to the matter of the Deputy Mayor. Councillors Clarke and Duncan indicated their desire to speak, and the Mayor, in the role of Chairperson, identified Mr Clarke, who nominated APNU Councillor Peters to become the new Deputy Mayor.

It was at this point that there was some kind of relapse to an ancient time zone. As we reported in our Friday edition, Duncan and Councillor Trichria Richards stood to speak. When Ms Chase-Green’s request for one of them to sit was not complied with, the Town Clerk advised the Mayor to make a decision, which she did by choosing Ms Richards. And what did Ms Richards come armed with? Nothing less than a motion to close nominations, which was then supported by a majority of the councillors.

Mr Duncan, therefore, was effectively excluded from exercising his democratic right of putting forward the name of his nominee for election. His nominee was his fellow AFC Councillor Lionel Jaikaran, who had just completed a term as Deputy Mayor, and without the backing of APNU had no hope of being given a second term.

So again, one has to ask, what on earth was the purpose of muzzling Mr Duncan and blocking him from putting forward the name of Mr Jaikaran, when the latter had no hope of being voted into office in any case? Was it an act of spite directed against Mr Duncan, because of his criticism of the Town Clerk, in particular? Was it to ensure that no stray councillor lost the page in the APNU textbook and really did vote for Mr Jaikaran? Was it to put the AFC in its place so it knew who ruled at City Hall? Whatever it was, it must have been more important to the party than giving the impression that it was committed to democratic ways.

Of course, all of this has political dimensions as well. Stabroek News quoted Mr Jaikaran as telling reporters that in denying Councillor Duncan the right to speak, the Mayor had made a decision which saw “the AFC … kicked to the curb.” For his part, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson who was present at the elections told this newspaper that what had happened, “reaffirm[ed] the decision made by AFC that a defined set of arrangements needs to be in place before the AFC will join APNU in contesting the 2018 local government elections.”

Be that as it may, at the bottom of Thursday’s events was a manipulated election, a denial of democratic norms and a display of local party paramountcy at a minuscule level. In this day and age it was nothing short of a disgrace. That was not what the citizens of Georgetown voted the Councillors into City Hall to do.

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