The Federal United Party (FED-UP), a new political party, was launched yesterday by three Berbice attorneys, who said they would be campaigning for reforms to Guyana’s electoral system to ensure that parliamentary representatives are directly elected by voters, and the creation of a federal system of government.
Heading the party are attorneys Chandra Sohan, Ryan Crawford and Horatio Edmonson.
Sohan, a former magistrate, at the launch yesterday afternoon at the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce building in Rose Hall Town, Corentyne, said the party has been in the works for a few years. He said after they assessed where the country is and where it is heading, they decided that it was time for a new party, which led to them forming FED-UP.
“When we look where Guyana is compared to where other countries are, we really haven’t made no progress in this country,” he said. “At one point in time, we felt disgusted with what we see and… we got more disgusted… we are now just fed up,” he added.
He said after talking with citizens, they discovered that they are fed up too. “We are of the strong belief that the only way to advance this country is by way of electoral reform and to have constitutional reform. We have just come out of the local government elections and we have seen that the constituency system still prevails in this country. The constituency system is one which allows every person to have a say immediately in terms of who they want to be their representative at the local government level. We are now saying that is what we want to be the electoral system nationally,” he declared.
Describing a first-past-the-post electoral system, Sohan stated that his party is suggesting that the country be divided into 65 constituencies, with every party being allowed to contest constituencies of their choice “and if you should win your constituencies, you go to parliament.”
He added, “The system which we have now allows each political party to put up a slate of whatever number of candidates they want and then whatever (number of) seats is allotted to that party, they choose from that list of candidates who they want to go to parliament.”
Sohan argued that citizens are not satisfied with the current electoral system, which sees 40 of the 65 members of the National Assembly elected via proportional representation and the remainder from the 10 regions, which are used as constituencies.
Further, he said his party will be advocating for a federal system where the country is divided into three counties, with each having its own administration.
“That is nothing new to us because we have the regional system. All we are talking about now is merging the regions into bigger regions and then those regions will become the three counties where we can have a different level of governance similar to what we have in the regional system, but yet the objective now is to take away the power or the control of central government as we have today to the extent that it means reduced power to central government that we have right now,” he asserted.
Sohan said they are hoping to get “all the votes in Region Five and Six” so as to secure some seven seats in Parliament, which would expedite their advocacy.
Focusing on Berbice, Sohan charged that not much has been done for the ancient county for many years. “There is no development coming to Berbice. Berbice has been stifled for as long as we can remember. The only time we hear anybody paying any interest to Berbice is during election time and right after that Berbice is forgotten,” he said.
As such, the party’s first step will be to work towards taking control of Berbice, “and that will be part of the objective which we believe we can be able to achieve.” He explained, “If we were to merge Region Five and Six for the county of Berbice, we are saying we can do a lot more with a constituency system and with control over Berbice.”
Additionally, he pointed out that every year, hundreds of students graduate from the University of Guyana’s Tain Campus but employment creation within the county remains inadequate. He said more emphasis must be placed on creating employment for the youths throughout the country as he noted that the lack of jobs has led to them fleeing from Guyana “because they have no other option.”
“The government of today has said it is not their responsibility to create jobs. So, if they do not create jobs, who will for us?” he questioned.
“The government must be able to create jobs. We are not saying the government must create a civil service or public service job but if you are going to get the private sector involved, you need to give them the encouragement, you need to give them the concessions so that they can be able to invest and energise our economies,” he declared.
However, Sohan said, the present and previous governments seem to lack the knowledge to do so as their only focus has been to gain power. “We are fed up of that. We are looking to take this country to a different place where we can all live and coexist peacefully,” he asserted.
The former magistrate pointed out that Berbice is filled with a lot of resources and with good governance, major development can occur within a short time. “We’ve got the bauxite, we’ve got the oil sitting outside there, which is going to be tapped one of these days. We have the forestry, we have the brains, we have the land,” he pointed out.
Sohan said it is quite upsetting to see other countries with less resources develop rapidly, while Guyana, which is filled with resources, is stuck at one level. He blamed this state of affairs on politics. “When we came to the final assessment, we have come to the realisation that the race politics of this country is (what) is stifling us. The race politics of the main political parties in this countries is taking us nowhere,” he said.
Sohan added that it is evident to his party that Guyana, since gaining independence, is going “around in a cycle” since one of the two major political parties “is leading us.”
The former magistrate noted that a third party, the Alliance For Change (AFC) had emerged, and quickly gained the trust of citizens and led them to believe that they were going to take Guyana forward. “But then we see that their interest was more selfish than it was for nation building,” he charged.
He further opined that the constituency system at the national level is one the party believes will break the “racial divide in this country.”
“We believe strongly that if we are able to bring the constituency system into our national electoral system, we can be able to bridge that racial divide and be able to elect that person who we want to go to parliament and represent us,” he emphasised.
Additionally, Sohan said, the party will suggest reforming the electoral system so that voting for members of parliament and local authorities are done at the same time. “You vote for your local government the same time, this is not going to incur any additional costs, its one electoral system…you vote for your local government, your MPs and your president every four years, one time,” he said.
According to Sohan, FED-UP believes that such a system will make a major difference in Guyana’s development. He said the party hopes that it will be able to campaign as freely as it would like without any interference.
Sohan was in the news last November when a charge of witness tampering against him was dismissed. He was accused of attempting to obstruct the course of justice in the preliminary inquiry into the charge against Marcus Brian Bisram and the five other accused in the murder of Number 70 Village carpenter Faiyaz Narinedatt.
Meanwhile, Crawford, who said that he was very nervous to speak at yesterday’s launch, explained that several reasons led to him being a part of FED-UP. According to the attorney, who gained notoriety when a video of him spewing expletives in an interaction with a policeman during a traffic stop went viral, he has always wanted to represent Guyana and the Caribbean. He said that as a parent, he believes that he has to step up and change the environment in which his children are living and growing.
Guyanese are no strangers to politicians developing themselves on taxpayers’ monies while the citizens suffer, Crawford observed. “We don’t need anything, we are not here to gain financial wealth or anything, we are just here because of greater concern for our people,” he indicated.
He pointed out that nothing is being done to transition students from the university, sugar workers and other persons, to the oil and gas sector. “We have been so busy with oil and gas and we don’t have a plan and no one knows anything that’s happening,” he declared.
Further touching on sugar, Crawford stressed that he believes more could have been done to subsidise the sugar industry rather than firing sugar workers who have families. He also said that the process of severing the sugar workers could have been done better by creating other employment for them. FED-UP, he said, hopes to stamp out the idea of supporting a particular party because of ethnicity.
Additionally, Crawford said he believes that Guyana has always been a police state where the government of the day uses the police force to its benefit and to persecute citizens.
He referred to his own case, which resulted in charges, and he said that he is prepared for whatever is thrown at him.
Edmonson, meanwhile, said that for more than five decades Guyana has suffered tremendously because of its politics. As a result, he said, “The time has come for some real organisation that would have the interest of the people at heart, the interest of Guyanese citizens, our children at heart and not just concentrate on going to parliament and moving up in the political arena for personal gain, and that’s why we are here.”
He said FED-UP wants to unite all Guyanese where “we can rub shoulders together.”
Additionally, he opined that during election periods, politicians use citizens’ differences to tear them apart but emphasised that the time has come for that to stop. “There will be need for constitutional changes because a constituency government is a government that fosters democracy,” he said, while emphasising that such a system will ensure that citizens can hold their leaders accountable for their actions.