CONFIDENCE AND CRISIS

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LAST week I was full of confidence when I wrote that the APNU+AFC coalition was heading for a Triple Crown, having taken majority votes in two previous elections – 2011 and 2015.
On March 2 everything seemed to have gone well, and everyone was hailing our national and regional elections as nothing but free and fair, and free from fear. Except for a few requests for recounts, polling and declaration of results in nine out of the ten electoral districts were free from any major hiccups.

At that point, the preliminary results showed that the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had a handsome lead. Those results also showed that the PPP/C had repeated its 2015 performance by winning six of the Regional Democratic Councils.

REGION 4 VOTES
By that time no declaration was made of the votes in Region 4, which has the single largest number of electors, and spans the vast geographical area between Mahaica and Timehri, and includes the capital, Georgetown.

This Region has always favoured the People’s National Congress (PNC), which is the major force in the six-party A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC). It was anticipated that when the results were in, APNU+AFC would comfortably over-take the PPP/C’s lead, and would go on to win the 2020 elections with a slim majority. But certain administrative humbugs were delaying this process.

Then someone dramatically disclosed that the PPP/C had claimed victory. Its backers in Trinidad were popping champagne on the basis of that leak. What happened next was a calculated campaign by the PPP to sabotage the verification and announcement of polling statistics by the Region 4 Returning Officer. The PPP unlawfully occupied the Region 4 Command Centre, and intimidated and threatened staffers.

With disclosures that “the Russians were here”, three of whom were arrested and deported after they were found with “cyber” equipment, news quickly spread that someone was accosted in the Command Centre for suspiciously having in his possession a flash-drive and a computer. The inference was clear: GECOM’s command centre was being hacked!

VIRTUAL DURESS
For two continuous days the PPP occupied the Centre as the Returning Officer tried to ascertain the total votes cast for each of the contesting parties in his District by adding the numbers from the Statements of Poll (SOPs).

It might have appeared to the Returning Officer that there were no material errors in those SOPs, and he received and admitted them as credible. In a situation of virtual duress, he subsequently declared inter alia that the APNU+AFC won 136,458 votes and the PPP/C 77,329.

With an anticipated increase in the number of electors in East Demerara, those numbers were not spectacular, compared to 2015 when the APNU+AFC polled 113,856 votes as against 70,241 for the PPP/C.

Overall, when the Region 4 votes were factored in, it showed that in the 2020 elections 473,352 persons voted, as against 412,012 in 2015. From those numbers, the APNU+AFC polled 237,004 votes and the PPP/C 229,344, which gives the former a narrow lead of 7,660 votes.

Again, it was a narrow margin as in 2015. And when computed, the unofficial projection is that the Coalition would again have a one-seat majority in the National Assembly.

MANDATORY INJUNCTIONS
At that point the PPP/C obtained mandatory injunctions against the Region 4 Returning Officer and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). In effect the court orders would prevent GECOM from advancing and completing the electoral process. That would fly in the face of the constitutional mandate of GECOM to control and supervise national elections.
Hearing into the PPP’s application took place yesterday before the Chief Justice, who will give her decision later today.

The announcement of the Region 4 results was an occasion for the PPP to declare war on GECOM. It organized and financed protests that were intended to be violent. Roads were blocked, and set on fire. Commuters were attacked, including in one instance innocent children in their school bus and in another, a traumatized nurse going home from work. Police ranks were stoned, and they were forced to retreat under hot pursuit. Then, on Friday evening when ranks were attacked and wounded, one protester was shot. The Opposition had won its first “pro-democracy martyr”.

POLITICAL SOLUTION
Those unlawful activities, in an ethnically-charged situation, were tantamount to pouring fuel on fire. But this situation does not require an outcome through terrorism, arson, violence and civil conflicts.

Today as I write, our governance system, which rests shakily on winner-takes-all is mired in crisis. Winner-takes-all has exhausted its potential to bring about political reconciliation, much less healing of our ethnic wounds. Given political will, this situation opens the door to a peaceful and inclusive national solution.

Last week I had this to say:
“This is my 12th elections, and I am not worried about the outcome. I would be worried though if the losers were to see the results only as a defeat, and not as a challenge to rise above partisan, ethnic-driven obsession for power.
“The post-election agenda must include inclusive politics, and bi-partisan cooperation to achieve in Guyana genuine national unity. Towards that strategic goal, I re-commit myself”.

PRECIPITOUS STATEMENTS
From my contact with them, I know that regional and international observers and certain envoys who were accredited for these elections are all acutely aware of the potential for ethnic fragmentation and social implosion in Guyana. For this reason, it is unfortunate that they have made apparent precipitous statements about “fraud” that could fuel the fury in Guyana.

If there is any such fraud, then our friends should encourage recourse to peaceful, legal and constitutional remedies. But the Opposition has taken the pronouncements of observers and envoys to the streets, and they are boasting at the barricades: “THEY” are on OUR side!

This is the time for restraint and responsibility on all sides. It may be too late to pull back from the precipice, but we have a duty to try. We should try to talk our way out of what I fear would be, from what we have all seen so far, an unprecedented period of social turmoil.

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