QUANDO, QUANDO, QUANDO?
WITH over 340,000 persons registered, as the countdown to the final hour of the house-to-house phase got underway yesterday, the word on the lips of many Guyanese is “when”.
When will these fresh names merge with the existing database, which is called the National Register of Registrants (NRR)? When will a preliminary voters list be extracted from the national register for open scrutiny during an extended period of claims and objections? When will the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) inform President David Granger that it is ready to conduct elections? And, when will these elections be held?
Guyanese voters last went to the polls on May 11, 2015. In what was described as open, free and credible elections, they elected, as a government for a five-year term the APNU+AFC Coalition, under the Presidency of David Arthur Granger. The Coalition won those elections by one seat over its nearest rival, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). However, just over three and a half years after the elections, on Friday, December 21, 2018, the PPP moved a motion of no-confidence in the Coalition Government.
The passage of that motion was secured with the defection of an MP from the government benches. Because he held dual citizenship, his action primarily cast a long shadow of doubt over the legality of the vote and resulted in marathon legal proceedings.
Fresh elections, which should follow a successful confidence vote within ninety days, were put on pause. But it appears, now that the major constitutional challenges are over, that the tape is again rolling, and in the direction of early elections.
The Elections Commission under its new Chairman, Madam Justice Claudette Singh, is getting the voters list ready. This will involve several stages of verification to ensure that the final list of voters is credible. The fresh names have to be merged with the existing data, which will then be sanitised to eliminate duplicate registrants, before a preliminary voters list is extracted.
The preliminary list would be disaggregated according to polling districts and polling places, to receive claims and objections. This is expected to be for an extended period to further clean the list.
The “when game” which started a while ago, has entered a new level. But, as the mirage of “whens” swirl in my mind’s eyes, I feel enchanted by the melodious voice of Engelbert Humperdinck, (born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu as Arnold George Dorsey), as he sings his version of “quando, quando, quando”:
“I can’t wait a moment more
Tell me quando quando quando…”
The delay over when these elections could be held stemmed not only from the judicial processes, but also from a need for a credible voters list, for which GECOM is the sole constitutional agency.
There are legitimate beliefs that the existing voters’ list is contaminated with names of deceased persons, Guyanese who have long migrated and, possibly, it is padded with the names of aliens or phantoms. There are suspicions that the Opposition PPP has benefitted from the padded list.
Minister Ronald Bulkan shared with me some interesting statistics on the voting patterns during elections between 1997 and 2015. At the 1997 elections (the last during the Jagan era), the PPP received 220,632 votes. However, in the post-Jagan period, it started to lose votes between 2001 and 2011, as follows:-
In 2001, its votes fell to 210,013 or by 10,619;
In 2006 its votes again fell to 183,988 or by 26,025;
In 2011 its votes fell to an all-time low of 166,340 or by 17,648.
The cumulative loss between 2001 and 2011 was 54,292 votes. But, inexplicably, the PPP polled 202,694 votes at the 2015 elections, or an increase by 36,354 votes over its showing in 2011, during which period the government had wallowed in corruption and had sunken to an all-time low in popularity. Key leaders, including former Speaker, Ralph Ramkarran and myself, left the party; other “Jaganites” were alienated.
It must raise much more than curiosity that when the list stood at 475,496 voters in 2011, the PPP lost 17,548 votes to the then opposition parties. Combined, the APNU and AFC polled 175,011 votes as against the PPP’s 166,340. The latter won on a plurality of votes, but with a minority of parliamentary seats – 32, against 33 for the APNU+AFC.
However, in 2015, when the voters’ list jumped upwards by a whooping 107,948 voters, the PPP romped home with 202,694 votes or 36,354 more than it had received in 2011.
It is evident that the padding of the list benefitted the PPP and, without more, the “phantoms” came out to vote for this party.
Now allegations are surfacing about some possible reasons for the padding, with several persons in at least one location found to be in possession of faked birth certificates and national identification cards. The headline news, “Probe launched into fake birth certificates”; “Region 9 residents tie PPP to alleged racket”, were met with the PPP’s rebuttal that these claims are a “political ploy”.
Over many years while I was closely associated with Cheddi Jagan, he repeated that the PPP was “cheated not defeated”. He would quote from a Sunday Times article,
“As coups go, it was not expensive: over five years the CIA paid out something over 250,000 pounds. For the colony, British Guiana, the result was over 170 dead, untold hundreds wounded, roughly 10 million pounds worth damage to the economy and a legacy of racial bitterness.” (West on Trial, p. 380).
What happened on the night of Friday, December 21, 2018, was a repeat of the 1964 “coup” against a legitimate government. It didn’t cost much, but it has stripped the PPP of its moral compass. It is no longer the victim of injustice.
With 32 seats, the PPP tabled a motion of no confidence, knowing that it could not win as against 33 on the government’s side. On the weakness of its minority, it could not secure a majority decision. It had to calculate for a cross-over to effect the coup against the lawfully-elected government.
Failure would have carried a deadly cost, so it advised businesses not to open, and its supporters not to come to the city on that fateful December 21, 2018 – sensing a “PPP Black Friday”.
It was a dangerous gambit to enlist someone who had questionable loyalty to his country; someone who had closed his legal practice, sold his property, and had made reservation to quit the country after the vote. They enlisted someone who, though broke, was soliciting the purchase of one million United States dollar worth in gold, and negotiating for its export to a foreign country.
But the PPP pulled off the greatest political coup in post-independent Guyana. Now it must wait and sweat it out until GECOM says “when”.
The people are also waiting on judgement day for those who conspired against our democracy!