A long ‘fore-day morning conversation with someone who was in Guyana during the whole period after the no-confidence motion was helpful to me. It left me convinced that I had missed important exchanges between the two sides. I never played chess, the game of the cultured, but when I was in Guyana, I could watch closely all the moves on the chess board as the maximum leaders tried to outdo each other. My comments will therefore avoid reference to the responses of leaders to the no-confidence motion and how those responses were received by their opposite numbers.
As usual, I will make comments aimed at correcting impressions taken from statements that may be true in themselves but may not give the whole picture.
I want to begin by reminding readers that when the PPP was in office, Mr. Christopher Ram did not spare them. He was often foremost in challenging their many faults in management, accountability and conflicts of interest.
In the 1953 election campaign, there was not the concern with “fair and free elections” that developed later, after the period documented by Mr. Ram and illustrated by graphs. In 1953 the legal age for voting was 21. Dr. Jagan used to urge registration of voters by telling crowds, “if you can marry at 18 and fight at 18, you can vote at 18.” He had matured politically in the USA with its sundry electoral standards. Mr. Burnham used to tell crowds, “get registered if you are 21 or look like 21.” He had matured politically in England with its tradition recorded by Dickens in “the Elections at Eatonsville.” Before the coming of adult suffrage at the age of 21 in 1953, the parties and candidates depended on ‘treating’ as a means of influencing voters. Candidates would have accounts at rum shops and their local agents would treat willing voters freely. The old PPP never treated.
However, in order to help younger people come to a balanced view of the merits of the two Vanguard parties, the PPP and the PNC, I must add two simple factual statements: (1) the violation of electoral rules and electoral rights of citizens did not begin in 1968. In that year, there was much proof that the violation expanded as Mr. Ram has written.
In 1961 there was a General Election under a Constitution offering Internal Self Government. The PPP won that election with 20 of the 36 seats. Although the PPP won that election nationally, the Court unseated one of its winners in an election petition in the Houston constituency. The sitting Judge found on the evidence that the winners had engaged in corrupt practices. That was the Court’s findings and under all the rules and customs, the voters of that constituency were entitled to a by-election so that, like other citizens of the country, they could have a representative. The PPP, for reasons it had never explained to the public, never held that by-election. Consequently, the residents of Houston were taxed without representation and, at another level, suffered discrimination as the only constituency denied the right to representation in the law-making body. The PPP celebrated the country’s winning of Internal Self Government by refusing to hold this by-election. It was never held and the Government never explained why. As a result of failure to hold this by-election, there were at least two areas of human rights violation. First, residents of the Houston constituency were deprived, for a whole parliamentary term, of the right to vote and of the right to be represented, while paying the same taxes as others. Secondly, residents of this constituency were, therefore, victims of discrimination, since they were treated differently from residents in other constituencies.
As if to prove that this behaviour was not an oversight, in 1962 the PPP drafted a Constitution for Guyana which included some of the PPP’s concepts of government in a multi-ethnic society. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was to be appointed by the Governor-General, acting on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Commissioner of Police was to be appointed by the Governor-General, acting on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. There was no arrangement for even consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, there was no Leader of the Opposition until the post was created after the defeat of the PPP.
Mr. Ram’s letter was intended to make the point that the 1997 elections were nullified by Justice Claudette Singh for illegality and not for fraud. My letter in the same paper also explained that aspect of the Judge’s ruling. However, I must hasten to add that the PPP was not a model of electoral purity. It has never forgiven me for using the Claims and Objections process in the 1961 elections to object successfully, as a voter, to the inclusion of under-age voters in a PPP constituency on the East Coast of Demerara.
I have confined my comments on the PPP’s respect for elections to examples of its activity in state organs.