By W. Andy Knight and Winston Dookeran
We have followed the general election in Guyana held on 2 March last with great interest and grave concern. This particular election has significant implications for democratic governance, not only for Guyana but, for the entire Caribbean.
What we have been witnessing over the past 120 days since Guyanese went to the polls are both a confirmation of the way in which democratic elections are supposed to be run, followed by an attempt to negate democracy, thereby thwarting the will of the Guyanese people.
The election itself was “perhaps one of the most outstanding, credible and well-run elections” ever witnessed by most of the election observers. Scrutineers from all political parties, the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM), along with external election observers from several countries, witnessed a process whereby all voters produced photo identification or their National Identification Card; had their identity verified by a Presiding Officer against a registry of legitimate voters; dipped their index finger in indelible ink to avoid voting duplication; folded their ballot so that the vote remained anonymous; and placed their vote securely into an official ballot box.
The election process was a cumbersome one, but commendably thorough, and every election observer, including those from the two main political parties, was impressed by the calibre and commitment of the polling stations’ staff and by the relatively smooth way in which the entire election was handled. European Union Ambassador Fernando Ponz, who observed the elections opined: “Guyana could feel justifiably proud. A peaceful, well managed Voting Day had favourably impressed domestic and foreign observers, winning praise by Government and opposition alike.”
The tabulation process at each polling station was meticulous, credible and fair, according to the incumbent coalition officials, the opposition party officials, representatives of GECOM, and local and international observers. The Statements of Poll (SoPs) were placed at the entrance of each polling station, demonstrating transparency of the count. There were ten electoral districts and 2,339 ballot boxes. The results of the tabulation of votes revealed that 460,352 valid votes were cast in the general election, with the PPP/C opposition party securing 233,336 votes and the incumbent APNU+AFC coalition receiving 217,920 votes. This result, certified by the GECOM, whose mandate it is to determine the final credible count, indicated that the opposition party had clearly won the general election. The outcome, as always the case in Guyanese elections, was a narrow victory – this time for the PPP/C. Based on the certified results of the polls, the PPP/C with 50.69 per cent of the vote would have 33 seats in Parliament and the APNU + AFC with 47.34 per cent would have 31 seats.
But the process was abruptly stalled. And, as Ambassador Ponz put it: “What came afterwards was a dramatic deviation, culminating with the unlawful declaration of non-credible results for Region 4 (Georgetown), which changed entirely the national outcome. Citizens and observers were dismayed. Exemplary voting and behaviour by the Guyanese people, and lots of hard work by junior GECOM staff, officials and party agents, were at risk. It was only after it became obvious from the SoPs that the PPP/C had won the election that the incumbent party manifested unhappiness with the result and fraudulently tried to change the outcome.
Former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, who observed the election in Guyana stated that he had “never seen a more transparent attempt to alter the result of any election. Owen Arthur, former Prime Minister of Barbados and the Head of the Commonwealth Observer Team, put on record immediately his observation that representatives of the APNU+AFC engaged in fraud and widespread rigging of the election, only after they realized that their party was losing to the Opposition. The Carter Centre, one of the most respected organizations when it comes to the observance of national elections around the globe, questioned the change in the tabulation of votes in Region 4 and also expressed concerns about fraud. Similarly, the Organization of American States (OAS) Observation Mission noted a change in the vote count in Region 4 and, in a diplomatic statement, concluded that “the process did not reach its proper conclusion as stipulated in the electoral code.” Cynthia Combie Martyr, Chief of Mission of CARICOM Election Observation Team, who had earlier pronounced that the Guyana “elections were free and fair”, warned that unless the tabulation for Region 4 was transparent, then the outcome of the national polls “could not be reliably proclaimed.”
Subsequent efforts forced GECOM to call for a recount of all the polls. It should be noted that both the election day tally and the result of the recount, supervised closely by a high level three member CARICOM team led by UWI professor Cynthia Barrow-Giles, completed on June 8 last, showed that the PPP/C had indeed won the most votes in a tight contest. Yet, even after saying that he would abide by the results of the recount, President Granger has not conceded defeat nor acknowledged the outcome of the recount. Only after the APNU+AFC realized it was losing the election did its representatives begin to complain about “irregularities” and “fraudulent votes” being cast. Attempts were made to disenfranchise a large number of voters through allegations of voting violations that have not been substantiated. According to the Lowenfield Report, there are claims of breaches in polling procedures and alleged voter impersonation. Yet, no concrete evidence has emerged to support these allegations. The alleged violations are of the sort that should have been caught by scrutineers of all the political parties present during the voting process and the tabulation of the votes.
Based on all the facts of the election, including the eventual recount and the latest Court of Appeal decisions, it is evident that the democratic process in Guyana was undermined. We urge the coalition government of the APNU + AFC to do the right and honourable thing and concede defeat in this election. We urge President Granger and Prime Minister Nagamootoo to promptly recognize the PPP/C as the winner in this hard fought and tightly contested election, and congratulate Dr. Irfaan Ali as the new President, and Brigadier Gen. (Ret’d) Mark A. Phillips as the new Prime Minister in a PPP/C government. It is in the interest of all Guyanese that the APNU-AFC facilitate a smooth transition without further delay in order to uphold and preserve democratic governance.
There is no reason to doubt the consensus opinion and veracity of the CARICOM Observer Team, the OAS, the Commonwealth Observation Mission, the Carter Center, the embassies and Ambassadors of European Union, and the United States, the High Commissioners from Canada and the United Kingdom, representatives from Norway, the Elders Group, and the ABCE foreign powers. Several independent bodies in Guyana, including the Guyana Human Rights Association, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, the Private Sector Commission, and even partners within the APNU + AFC coalition itself have determined that the 2020 election was free and fair, and that the recount was credible. All of these observers can’t be wrong.
As Caribbean scholars and practitioners dedicated to the production of authentic and socially responsible knowledge and action, in our region and beyond, we feel compelled to call on the APNU + AFC to immediately demit office and have the rightful winner, Dr. Irfraan Ali sworn in as president, so that the PPP/C can get on with governing Guyana at a critical time in its history.
(W. Andy Knight is Acting Chair of the Department of Political Science and Professor of International Relations at the University of Alberta.
Winston Dookeran is a former Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Trinidad and Tobago government.)