Guyana’s 2020 general elections: More theatre

Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards swears in Dr Mohammed Irfaan Ali as the 9th Executive President of Guyana at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre on August 2, 2020
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards swears in Dr Mohammed Irfaan Ali as the 9th Executive President of Guyana at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre on August 2, 2020

It took a full five months after the Monday March 2 polling day for the eventual results of Guyana’s March 2 general elections to be declared in favour of the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic, the intervening period having been punctuated by an unseemly controversy over the outcome of the poll characterised by equal measures of ludicrousness, legal resort, and the unprecedented high-profile intervention of sections of the  international community holding out for a declaration of a final result, after a CARICOM Observer Mission had overseen a recount of the votes and declared the incumbent David Granger-led coalition to have been voted out of office.

Voters at NA Multilateral (SN file photo)

In truth it was a long and sometimes profoundly theatrical saga which, coming amidst the worries and strictures of the coronavirus pandemic, added an additional dimension of stress to an already charged national situation. As the drama unfolded, one got to thinking that it was decidedly unfair for the Guyanese people as a whole to become embroiled in a political drama in which, truth be told, they may not even have possessed the greatest stake. However, given that previous polls had been attended by periods of civil strife they would at least have been grateful that this one passed with relatively little incident.

The Granger administration is unlikely to forget the tragedy that derived from the process, not least, the criticism that it attracted from CARICOM leaders and more pointedly from the US, Britain, and Canada, arising out of its dogged insistence that the process through which it was declared to have lost power was flawed. Whatever merit it felt may have reposed in its sustained political and legal battle to remain in office was inexorably worn down, arguably to a lesser extent by the PPP/C and to a greater extent by those sections of the international community that continued to send repeated messages that the people had decided and that it should demit office.

Pity indeed that yet another general election in Guyana had to be sullied by accusations of vote-rigging by the respective combatants and by the embarrassment of external assessments of the poll that focussed unerringly on the disease of elections controversy in Guyana. Pity too that this time around, our elections controversy came amidst the frustrating emergencies that attended the coronavirus pandemic here, not least the national jitteriness associated with the continual rise in the victim count, the social distancing constraints, and the crippling effects on the business sector.

Some of the accustomed dimensions of downright ugliness that inhere in the post-elections recriminations have begun. We have witnessed come colourful ‘sendoffs’ of political appointees, ‘shown the door’ by the new incumbents, the processes attended by rituals that have come to be associated with the customary ‘cocking a snook’ at the losers by the winners. A good deal more of this is likely to come in the period ahead.

The new administration, meanwhile, is demanding its own honeymoon period to which it may well consider itself fully entitled having had to wait six full months to assume office. In the weeks since it has installed a President and filled its ministerial posts it has blitzed the nation with public disclosures regarding what it intends to do, going forward, leaving its stated intentions in the various crucial areas to be tested in the period ahead.

The post-mortem will roll on for some time yet. The losers, the APNU/AFC, have already made some major ‘statements’. PNC Party Leader and former President, David Granger, will not be returning to the National Assembly, nor will two long-standing members of the Party, former Ministers of Health and Social Services, respectively, Volda Lawrence and Amna Ally. The PNC’s is largely a new and untested slate of parliamentarians; the PPP’s is a solid wall of politically battle-hardened veterans that include the ‘ranking’ PPP parliamentarian Gail Teixeira, veterans like Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn and former President Bharrat Jagdeo, whose role, this time around, as Vice President, sends an unmistakable signal that going forward, he is the helmsman of the PPP ship.

Nor did the customary post-elections political theatre to which Guyana has grown accustomed end with the declaration of the winner and the end to the interlude of misery that had been inflicted on the Chairperson of the Elections Commission, retired Justice Claudette Singh. There began, once the new President, Irfaan Ali, had been sworn in and his Ministers installed, a familiar post-mortem of what went before, a mix of satire and seriousness that included arrests of individuals deemed to have fallen afoul of the law during the tenure of the previous administration, the standout one being the arrest late in August of Clairmont Mingo, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Returning Officer for District Four in connection with electoral fraud.