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Friday, March 24, 2006
Guyana’s Upcoming Election Should Be Postponed


David Hinds
Special To HBN

Hardbeatnews, WASHINGTON, D.C., Fri. Mar. 24, 2006: The planned election in Guyana should be postponed because the country has been in a state of emergency since December 1997 and elections should not be held under such conditions. Such an exercise would only result in more instability and mayhem.

What is needed is a political solution that addresses the core cause of the disarray. Such a political solution has not and will not come from elections. Elections are meant to be an important plank of democratic action. But for them to fulfill this promise certain minimum conditions must be present.

First, all participants must agree to the rules, which at a minimum must guarantee a level playing field. Second, there must be some guarantee of stability and peace so that no group will be unduly deterred from participation. Third, there should not be pre-determined winners and losers based on factors such as race, language and culture. Fourth the electoral machinery must not be only independent in word, but must be seen to strive as much as possible in that direction.

Using the above considerations, it should be easy to see why elections in Guyana have been problematic. The electoral rules are skewed in favor of the majority, which happens to be an almost permanent racial majority. Every election in Guyana, fair or rigged, since self-government has been followed by racial trouble. The situation has worsened with every succeeding election. The trouble has increasingly graduated from “election time” trouble to permanent trouble.

The tendency to treat political issues in isolation from the larger core problem is a major defect of Guyanese political culture. This is most evident in the discussions surrounding the upcoming election. Every political party, civic organization, political commentator and esteemed visitor (except the African Cultural and Development Association) that has pronounced on the upcoming election has done so in terms that suggest that this is just another election in a stable country. They talk about the election as if it will be held in Britain or the USA or it will be an exercise in democracy that will solve something in Guyana.

Elections have not strengthened democracy. They have led to instability and ungovernability, which in turn have impeded the growth of democracy. Today Guyana is ungovernable. It is a dysfunctional state in which the administrative arm is unaccountable and functions under siege. The opposition, on account of its marginal status in the formal system, destabilizes from the outside. In this state of affairs the other arms of the state have crumbled. The police cannot solve crimes, the army cannot protect its weaponry and the parliament hardly passes laws with the approval of the many. The judicial arm does not even pretend to review anything or serve as a check on legislative and executive excesses. Justice is bought with impunity. Armed gangs and the narco industry have usurped state functions. Journalists cannot investigate and report the truth. Poverty and its social consequences run amok. Life is cheap. The country exists on the edge of disintegration.

At the bottom of all of the above is the racial competition for power. Race by itself does not cause the trouble in Guyana, but race when linked to the competition for power provides the opportunity for it to flourish. How on earth can competitive elections make a difference in this setting? How can elections under stress and duress be an exercise in democracy? Can someone say how a proper voters list, a big tent, a Third Force, a Center Force, the promise of a PPP victory and American support for democracy can translate into racial peace and political stability? All the talk about which party will win the election is hypocritical at best and nonsensical at worst. Parties don’t contest elections in Guyana. Races do. And in a majoritarian system, the majority race is guaranteed victory. Those who think that African Guyanese will accept another PPP victory either do not understand history or are insensitive to the implications of winner take all for racial minorities in extreme racially polarized countries.

I submit that even if GECOM succeeds in meeting all the requirements for the election before August, the election will still be an occasion for the worst form of barbarism. I repeat, the best short-term solution is to postpone election, negotiate a political settlement and install a Government of National Unity whose principal task must be the facilitation of national reconciliation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is a Guyanese-born, U.S-based political science professor who also runs GuyanaCaribbeanpolitics.com. – Hardbeatnews.com