At the event marking the 100th Birth Anniversary of Cheddi Jagan sponsored by the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, former President Bharrat Jagdeo expressed fears that the general elections due in 2020 will be rigged. President Jagdeo cited the circumstances leading up to the appointment of the Chair of the Elections Commission, namely, President Granger’s rejection of three lists of a total of eighteen names, and the President’s choice of Justice James Patterson. President Granger had the authority to appoint a judge, former judge or person qualified to be a judge, if he rejected the list of the Leader of the Opposition on the ground that the names submitted were not acceptable to him. It was a controversial departure by the President from the formula adopted in 1992, which had subsequently received a constitutional imprimatur.
Rigged elections have had a long, known and sordid history in Guyana. Surprisingly, instead of leaving the past behind after the reforms of 1990-1992, it was the PNC that became the accuser, alleging that elections between 1992 and 2006 were rigged. Observers noted that the 40 per cent average it obtained from 1992 onwards, after the large majorities between 1968 and 1985 had to be explained. The rigging of the elections thereafter was the explanation, justifying the large majorities. But it might have been the symptom of the deeper ethnic malaise that afflicts Guyana, just as the PPP’s claims that the elections of 2011 and 2015, in which it received substantially less votes than before, were rigged against it.
Allegations of election rigging are never going to end in Guyana. This is not to say that there is not the ever-present danger that elections would be rigged. Suspicions against the PNCR, the real power in the APNU+AFC coalition, is never far below the surface because of its history of election rigging in the past. There is a belief that the electoral attraction of the AFC has totally collapsed and that the coalition cannot command more that the votes the PNC/PNCR would normally obtain at elections, namely, 42 per cent at maximum. It is believed that the PNC is aware of this possibility and therefore the suspicion has arisen of the likelihood of election rigging in 2020.
Because of the existence of two large race groups in Guyana, which are in political competition, derived from economic competition for scarce resources, electoral success by one group is seen, not merely as a reversible electoral loss. It is seen as devastating to the political and economic security of the other group. With one group in power, it is accepted as fact that discrimination and marginalization will take place against the other group. One group is alleged to have economic power which, coupled with political power, harms the progress of the other group by discrimination. The other group is alleged to have administrative/bureaucratic/security power, and that with political power it discriminates and suppresses the other group. These narratives, whether true or not, have been with us since 1957 – for 60 years. They are not going to go away.
The struggle for political office, which is normal everywhere else, has an additional dimension in Guyana. Since the politics is based in ethnic competition, the struggle for political office becomes a struggle for ethnic dominance. An electoral victory is not seen as a victory for the political left or the political right, or for social democracy or liberal democracy, or for left wing or right wing economic and political policies. It is seen in purely ethnic terms – which ethnic group gains dominance. That is the root of the evil in Guyana’s politics.
Guyana cannot achieve the economic progress and the growth of the economy at a sufficiently rapid rate to deal with the problems of the society unless this ethnic competition is channelled into constructive streams and the fears are substantially reduced. Both parties know this.
In looking to the future, the impact of the oil economy needs to be considered. The income flow of 500,000 barrels of oil a day, or perhaps more, will transform the economic possibilities for Guyana. But unless a political solution is found to the ethnic issue, no matter which party is in office, the Dutch disease will rapidly overtake Guyana, corruption will explode, bad governance will continue, the rich will become richer, and the poor will have to satisfy themselves with being the left behind stragglers catching the crumbs as labourers, semi-skilled workers and service providers at the lower end, eking out a livelihood. Oil wealth will pass them by.
It is a great tragedy that APNU+AFC has abandoned its manifesto promise of constitutional reform which, with modifications, would have harnessed the ethnic competition into constructive efforts and would have, once and for all, eliminated the suspicions over elections. APNU+AFC had the chance of transforming Guyana’s economy, politics and society, charging into history as the true builder for which Dr Ptolemy Reid praised Founder Leader Forbes Burnham. But instead, APNU+AFC has now chosen to let history pass it by, seeking APNU+AFC, not national solutions, with a one seat majority, in a country divided by a partisan gorge. This government, refusing to honour its own manifesto pledge to the Guyanese people, will end up as no more than a footnote in Guyanese history.