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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

-- PNCR declines, protesters picket
By Neil Marks

PEACE PLEDGE: Politicians recite the peace pledge for the first time on the lawns of Public Buildings yesterday. (Photos by Winston Oudkerk)

THE governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and other parties intent on contesting the upcoming general elections, except the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), yesterday signed a peace pact and political code of conduct, amidst chants of “no justice, no peace” from protesters.

The peace pact, signed on the lawns of Public Buildings just after noon and witnessed by representatives of leading private sector bodies and the international community, is intended to foster an atmosphere of peace and non-violence for the upcoming elections.

However, protesters on the pavement, displaying placards of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and intent on disrupting the activity chanting their threat of “no justice, no peace,” overshadowed the event organised by the Inter Religious Organisation.

The protesters called for the withdrawal of the recently passed Public Utility Undertakings and Public Health Services Amendment Bill, which seeks to expand the definition of strike.

The GTUC charged that the bill is intended to stifle strike action, but Minister of Labour Dr. Dale Bisnauth explained that the legislation was in harmony with conventions of the International Labour Organisation which has recognised that withholding of labour by workers in essential services could result in loss of life or limb.

The bill was passed without the support of the PNCR last week.

The protesters also called for verification of the 2001 Official List of Electors which was used as the basis for the preparation of the 2006 Preliminary List of Electors (PLE).

The PNCR refused to sign the peace pact citing differences with certain aspects of the document, including those dealing with verification, the party’s General Secretary Mr. Oscar Clarke told reporters.

He said his party received the document only on April 28 and he also expressed disappointment that it was not consulted before the peace pact was set out on paper.

Clarke said his party would be willing to sign the pact once its concerns were addressed.

Parties signing the pact were: Good and Green Guyana, the Alliance for Change, God Bless Guyana, National Front Alliance, the PPP/C, The United Force, the Justice For All Party, and the People’s Bread and Butter party. Rise, Organise And Rebuild (ROAR) was not present but indicated it will sign the pact later.

Following the signing of the agreement, leaders of various religious organisations pinned a “peace button” inscribed with the word “peace” written in English, Hindi, Arabic and an Amerindian language.

Later, all recited a peace pledge which reads:

“We pledge to one another and to the Guyanese people to uphold and defend the Constitution of Guyana

To honour our National Pledge

To talk and act in peace with fellow Guyanese

To work hard to promote harmony and peace among members and supporters of all political parties

To help eliminate all forms of violence

Protesters disrupted the peaceful atmosphere for the signing of a peace pact and political code of conduct among political parties.

And to encourage and demonstrate love, forgiveness and protection especially for children under stress as we strive to develop our Native Land.”

The peace pact and code of conduct for political parties contesting the 2006 general and regional elections reads:

“Peace and public order, freedom of political campaigning, verification and compliance with electoral laws and regulations are essential to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections and the ready acceptance of results.

In furtherance of these objectives, we, the leadership of the political parties of Guyana:

1. Affirm our belief in the sanctity of human life and abhor taking human life or the violation of the person of anyone because of that person’s political allegiance.

2. Declare our opposition to and rejection of the use of violence and intimidation by any of our members or supporters as a means of expressing political support or furthering political objectives.

3. Denounce the procurement, possession or distribution of weapons or ammunition of any sort by our members or supporters for use in political activity.

4. Affirm our commitment to non-violent relations between the members and supporters of all political parties.

5. Repudiate any action by our members or supporters calculated to provoke, threaten or intimidate the members and supporters of any other party.

6. Recognize and respect the rights of each party, its members and supporters to express and demonstrate their political views and to conduct lawful, non-violent activities in support of their objectives.

7. Agree that we will only offer support to candidates who manifest the highest moral standards and who have not been convicted of any serious crime.

In the belief that the manner in which an Election is conducted is crucial to the well-being of Guyana and to its functioning as a democracy, We the leadership of the Political Parties contesting the 2006 General and Regional Elections, will urge our candidates, agents and supporters to contribute positively to a peaceful political atmosphere in which our respective policies and programmes for Guyana's future development will be the dominant feature of our campaigns. In this regard, we solemnly declare that:

We will act in accordance with all existing laws, rules and procedures governing the election practices.

We, our candidates, agents, members, supporters will avoid all illegal and corrupt practices.

We will insist that our candidates and agents avoid making speeches or statements that promote racial or ethnic tension by using stereotypes and other language to denigrate citizens or groups through derogatory references to race, gender, religious belief or cultural practice.

We will urge our candidates and supporters to respect the rights of others and, in particular, the right to freedom of speech and the right to hold and express contrary views.

We will contribute in every way to the goal of a peaceful election process and hereby undertake to:

1. Forbid the use of threats, harassment or tendency to violence that might cause disruption whether at political rallies or elsewhere, or any other form of intimidatory behaviour.

11. Forbid the use of abusive, slanderous or threatening language, or language to incite people of one group to violence against any person, member or members of any other group.

iii. Forbid the publication of any pamphlet, poster, cartoons or other material containing matters which can offend or incite people to cause public disorder.

iv. Forbid our candidates, members or supporters from all acts of interference with rallies, meetings, gatherings or processions of other parties.

v. Forbid all actions aimed at defacing, destroying or damaging any poster, notice or other campaign materials of other political parties.

We, together with our candidates, agents, workers and supporters will cooperate with, and give support to, the Electoral Commission, its officials and officers in the proper execution of their functions and duties and we will refrain from attacks, threats or other improper treatment of these officials during the campaign.

We will ensure that our candidates, agents and supporters refrain from interfering in any way with the polling and counting proceedings and avoid all attempts to spread false rumours about election activities.

We will urge our candidates, agents and supporters not to cause damage in any way to any premise in which polling places are located or to remove, deface or damage any election materials.

We will show respect for, and give support to, the law enforcement, military and security authorities in the proper discharge of their duties during the campaign, voting and declaration of results periods. We agree that unhelpful behaviour by parties and candidates towards these authorities should be avoided.

We agree that effective implementation of this Code by all Parties contesting the General and Regional Elections will significantly enhance the prospects for a free and fair election and we pledge ourselves to undertake, abide by and act according to its spirit, intent and letter.

Accordingly, we will issue instructions to our candidates, agents, members and supporters directing them to observe this Peace Pact and Code of Conduct and we pledge to take such other steps as may be necessary to ensure that its principles and practices are widely disseminated and followed.

Upon the Declaration of the Results by the Elections Commission to the satisfaction of the majority of the political parties, accredited observers and invited international visitors, the losing parties and candidates will show graciousness and magnanimity in their acceptance of the elections results and the winning party will pledge itself to govern in the interests of all Guyanese.

We agree that a system of verification is necessary to ensure compliance with this Peace Pact and Code of Conduct and will serve to build confidence, enhance credibility and develop trust among all Parties contesting the General and Regional Elections.

Accordingly, we agree to institute a system of self-verification as well as support and encourage other cooperative systems of verification as may be necessary to detect and deter any potential or actual act/s of non-compliance and we agree to issue and support public statements of condemnation with regard to such act/s or violations.