BUNGLED BALLOT BOXES

By tomorrow I expect the completion of the recount of all valid ballots cast in the March 2, 2020 elections in Guyana. This will be the first of four stages – Recount, Report, Review and Results (4Rs) – to which the President, the Opposition Leader and the Elections Commission have agreed to resolve the impasse that followed claims of widespread rigging at the polls.

The seven-member Elections Commission, which is the sole constitutional body supervising all processes of the elections, has set June 13 as the date for completion of the recount, and June 16 as the outer date for announcement of the official results.

EMANCIPATION AND DEMOCRACY
These dates hold tremendous significance for the struggles of the Guyanese people for emancipation and democracy. June 16 marks the 72nd anniversary of the Enmore Martyrs; and June 13, the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Walter Rodney.

When colonial police killed five unarmed sugar workers in 1948, by cowardly shooting them in the back, it accelerated the struggles for trade union and industrial democracy. It was the catalyst for the formation of the colony’s first united national liberation movement– the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), and also inflamed the passion for attainment of independence of our country from British imperialism.

But, as happened then in other oppressed territories such as Kenya and India, the colonial powers engineered political and social divisions, the legacy of which has haunted our countries long after independence.

In Guyana, after independence, there was a prolonged period of authoritarianism that resulted in struggles for restoration of electoral democracy and for a system of non-racial governance. Walter Rodney emerged as a prominent leader during a phase of popular insurgency to which state and para-state groupings responded with naked force. Walter was killed in a bomb explosion.

His tragic death gave impetus to the fight for the restoration of democracy in Guyana which, in 1992, held free and fair elections. That was an incomplete revolution of sorts as the genuine strivings for multi-ethnic democracy remain unsatisfied though a multi-party government took office for the first time in 2015, and fairly credible general and local elections have been held up to 2018.

DARK SHADOW
I have given a glimpse of the episodic events of 1948 and 1980 to show how the circumstances surrounding the 2020 elections have now cast a thick dark shadow over the gains of struggles over so many years. The reports of widespread acts of electoral fraud on March 2 have tainted not only the integrity of the ballot boxes but have compromised our short-lived enjoyment of credible elections post-1992.

It is fortunate, almost a saving grace, that our Courts have ordered a recount of ballots, which has revealed irregularities in almost all of the electoral districts. There has surfaced glaring evidence of ballot boxes literally stuffed with ballots marked for the PPP with no official supporting documents inside those boxes. Without validation from the voters list for those polling places, the identity of voters who cast ballots could not be ascertained. Those ballots, though legibly marked for a party, without proper legal identity of voters, could have been cast by phantoms!

As I see it, the Elections Commission already has the results of the 10 electoral districts which show that the APNU+AFC Coalition has won by a narrow margin. The Opposition does not agree that those results are credible, and has hinted at going to the Courts on the ground that “fraud vitiates everything”. That is its right.

But a de jure government has to be put in place, even out of necessity, in a situation where Guyana is battling the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic in the absence of a Parliament and without a national budget. How the Elections Commission traverses this delicate situation will determine whether or not Guyana plunges into a blind spot of unprecedented socio-political and constitutional crises.

When the reports from the recount are submitted in a few days’ time, the Elections Commission will have an opportunity to review the observations. It could assign weight to the evidence of material irregularities to determine whether these could amount to fraud. This could be sufficient for a lawful authority to later vitiate the results, and to render the elections null and void as was the case in the 1997 elections when the Elections Commission had declared the PPP the winner and the President took the Oath of Office.

BURDEN OF FRAUD
In recent interviews with Mark Benschop and Rickford Burke, I have admitted how ashamed I am to know that the PPP, with which I have been associated for 50 years, could become a party to blatant electoral fraud. The 2020 dirty tricks have stripped the PPP of any and all pretences, once considered righteous and legitimate, to complain about electoral fraud. It has now exposed to ridicule its supporters who must unfortunately carry the burden of this fraud.

What is more shameful is that key PPP apparatchiks are in consort with foreign interests and agencies, and local reactionaries, to disrupt the national democratic order in a vulgar and desperate power-grab. They have become strange bedfellows since the major protagonists behind the fraud have been trained by Moscow, once deemed the Mecca of Communist revolutionaries!

“Cheddi Jagan,” I lamented during the interviews, “would have felt betrayed to see this vulgarity and betrayal”. It is sad that he had created a party that has survived the Cold War based on adherence to principles of democracy, nationalism, patriotism, and the defence of the ideals of freedom and liberty, only to see all these values being trashed.
I may be generous to feel that such crass behaviour is redeemable. We can revisit our mistakes, and we can correct them before they create schisms that we would be unable to heal, now or in the near future.

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