BALLOTS NOT BULLETS!

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IN Guyana we have grown up within a democratic culture that emphasizes the ballots, not bullets, to resolve political disputes. With the potential for untold wealth from oil revenues at our door-steps, we must spare this nation from the wounds of civil conflicts, violence and insurrection.

For those of us who are old enough to remember the bloody 1960s, we do not want again to see internal strife and foreign interference tearing our people apart. For those who have not lived in that tragic period I suggest that you read The West on Trial. In it Dr. Cheddi Jagan referred to the expose by an Insight Team which was published by the Sunday Times. His removal, the report said, did not cost much – 250,000 pounds sterling. “For the colony, British Guiana, the result was about 170 dead, untold hundreds wounded, roughly 10 million pounds-worth of damage to the economy and a legacy of racial bitterness.” (Harpy, 2004, p 380)

RAW EDGE
Once again, after over 50 years of being independent, Guyana is on the raw edge as we await final results of elections that were held since March 2. This would be the first time that the results have taken so long to be declared and, today, being March 15, we are cautioned to beware the Ides of March.

On Friday evening when tabulation of votes from the last district was successfully completed and the results announced, we thought we would get the overall final results within hours. But new legal manoeuvres were introduced to block the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) from making the final declaration. Several of the contesting parties demanded a recount of the ballots cast in Region 4.

This is a matter for the court to decide, unless the Chairman of GECOM conceded that this is the way to go. I understand that the Chairman has extended an invitation to CARICOM to supervise the recount process, a move that received the support of both the President and the Opposition Leader. The ruling APNU+AFC has already signaled that it wanted a recount of ballots in the remaining nine districts.

CARIBBEAN FAMILY
It is a great strategic move to involve CARICOM and repose confidence in it as our foremost Caribbean institution. Others are trying to push out CARICOM, and to literally invade our backyard. No way!

After the 1997 elections, we had a similar “family” intervention from CARICOM when Trinidad’s former Judge Ulric Cross was dispatched to oversee a forensic audit of votes. Though the Cross findings identified discrepancies in balloting, it was the court presided over by then Justice Claudette Singh that deemed the results null and void. But by then Mrs Janet Jagan was sworn in as the President, and she could not be removed after the recount.

I was in the thick of things back then, and cooperated with CARICOM’s eminent team of Wise Men headed by Sir Henry Forde, former Attorney General of Barbados. The team brokered an agreement that shaved two years off the term of President Janet Jagan, and set a timeframe for new elections after completion of certain reforms to the Guyana Constitution.

I was present at her Bel Air house when Mrs. Jagan signed along the dotted line, and when elements of the party’s extremist fringe turned on Ralph Ramkarran, then PPP Executive and legal tzar. I still vividly remember the bitter onslaught that was unjustifiably unleashed against him for allegedly selling out to the Wise Men.

So recounts could have unsettling outcomes by which democrats have to live. They must agree a priori to accept the results as this would help to open the door to restore trust amongst political players, and defuse any possibility for outsiders to cash in on our seeming division. While it is laudable that both the President and the Leader of the Opposition have agreed to the recount, it must not appear that this is driven by the Executive. It is GECOM that is running the show, and has to implement the recount process. It must be clearly understood by those who are threatening sanctions, and those who are inviting foreign intervention, that constitutionally, GECOM is in charge of the conduct of elections – from registration of electors to declaration of the final results.

So when we thought that it was over on Friday last, we still have another round or two to go. The ballot boxes may have stunning revelations. But they would bury all doubts, and would restore credibility to our electoral processes. Its credibility has been tarnished when the PPP boasted that it had won the 2020 elections by leaking fake results, and promoted violence. That unlawful disclosure initially fed the insatiable appetite of certain known vested interests and their surrogates to impugn and discredit our sovereign institutions.

LAYERS OF TRANSPARENCY
Then, after bouts of delays and disruptions, GECOM officials implemented several layers of transparency, as it tried to comply with Orders of the Court. It revealed the votes for various contenders from a spreadsheet then, from individual statements of polls that were projected on a big screen for all party representatives and observers to see. The opposing parties rejected both of those exercises.

When the Region 4 results were declared, for the second time, they validated expectations that the APNU+AFC Coalition had won in Region 4, and has an overall lead by about 7,000 votes. But the race was not over. Now, we have to “hold all bets” and wait on the recount. In the meantime, it is hoped that the political tensions would subside, as our people affirm faith in the Guyana Elections Commission and renew trust in the Caribbean Community. In the end, the results may be ugly to some. But that would be our baby – the baby that our Constitution delivers.

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