Guyana votes and a frustrated nation remains on edge

By Govind Hinds

Caricom Chairman Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley visits the Caricom Secretariat

Guyanese went to the polls on March 2 last and as of March 17, the official winner is yet to be declared by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) which has vigorously asserted its sovereignty and control over every aspect of the electoral process.  

Both the ruling APNU coalition and the opposition PPP have claimed victory.  The APNU administration has held a number of celebratory events but has not been able to swear in their presidential candidate.

Caricom team at Guyana-election

What is clear throughout this saga is that the ruling APNU coalition does not want to know the real results and have hidden behind an array of excuses for the delays, including the fragile health of its officials, interference from the opposition parties, interference from international observers and interference from Canada’s High Commissioner in Guyana who is accused of overstepping her bounds by attempting to provide unsolicited advice. 

There is also the alleged plot of shadowy Russian hackers hired by the opposition to compromise GECOM’s elections system which turned out to be an Excel spreadsheet on a flash drive.

At the heart of the issue are the fears of the PNC, the main party that forms the APNU coalition and historically the political representative of the Afro Guyanese tribe. The PNC party loyalist views this election as an existential struggle for Afro Guyanese and a struggle between good and evil and where they believe that God is on their side.

The PNC faithful view the opposition PPP, the political representative of the Indo Guyanese tribe, as utterly corrupt and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of young Black men caught up in a narco industry that flourished under their watch. 

The PNC hardliners believe that if they lose power, it will be a dark day not only for their tribe but all of Guyana. It is with this narrative, that the PNC deep state desperately clings to power and its members that run GECOM will attempt to complete the verification process and declare their winner according to its rules.

There is the added variable of the coronavirus crisis with four cases announced in Guyana and one fatality. How this unfolding health crisis affects the coming events is unknown. The government has announced sweeping new measures that have closed Guyana’s borders and provide the health authorities and police services the ability to quarantine suspected patients and dispose of deceased person’s bodies and any property to stop the spread of the virus.

The silver lining is in 2020 and much of the electorate have evolved beyond the race-based views of their parents. The great majority of Guyanese have persons of all ethnicities in their families and many are of mixed heritage.  Both the APNU coalition and the PPP have persons of all races in their executive ranks and both are inclusive. The reality is that regardless of which party forms government, the cabinet will be an inclusive one.   The emergence of bright young politicians representing new parties has attracted the attention of electors who wish to see more these progressive voices in their government.  But  Guyana has to make it past the current stalemate and put into office the government that reflects the will of the people.

Let us do a quick recap of where Guyana is at this stage. The poll results of nine of the ten regions were successfully verified and the results declared. The final and largest region, Region 4, that includes Georgetown and the coastal areas,  still has to be verified and the final results declared. Every international observer has found the verification process of Region 4 lacking in transparency where the supporting Statement of Polls could not be physically examined and verified. Intent on declaring victory and swearing in their President, APNU was stopped by an injunction filed by the opposition PPP in the Supreme Court. The resulting Chief Justice’s ruling was clear: the GECOM must complete the verification process with transparency and with observers present.  The process was restarted at a new venue where the Statement of Polls (SOPs) were displayed briefly on a makeshift cardboard screen with limited resolution and poor visibility.  Most of the major international observers walked out in disgust at the process and the opposition immediately filed an injunction to invalidate any declared results.

In this moment of crisis, President Granger showed tremendous courage and reached out to Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley for CARICOM’s assistance in overseeing a total recount of all ballots in all regions.  Mottley demonstrated strong leadership and mobilized a High Level Team of five experts that included the Chief Elections Officers of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados who were on the ground within 24 hours and ready to oversee the straightforward task of counting ballots, box by box.  The President’s vote recount initiative was frustrated by GECOM officials and has been officially challenged by a legal injunction filed by the PNC. This is mutiny against the Commander-in-Chief who has been chastised by his lieutenants for overstepping his authority in requesting assistance from PM Mottley and CARICOM.

To quote the official Caricom release on the frustrating situation, “A court order issued on 17 March 2020, granted an injunction restraining GECOM from recounting any ballots of the General and Regional Elections of 2 March 2020, and set aside “any agreement between the President of Guyana and the Leader of the Opposition and or any agreement between the Guyana Elections Commission and the Caribbean Community. 

“The Caribbean Community has no other choice but to withdraw the High Level Team.  It is clear that there are forces that do not want to see the votes recounted for whatever reason. Any Government which is sworn in without a credible and fully transparent vote count process would lack legitimacy.”

This is where Guyana finds itself, well beyond the 15 day period recommended by the Guyana constitution for a final declaration of election results. This injunction will be heard on Friday and until then the nation remains on a knife’s edge.

Ugly words are being spoken. Old tribal divisions have resurfaced and the demons of hate are feasting on the darkest fears of both tribes. The ballot boxes remain chained in shipping containers and are being vigilantly guarded by police and unnamed citizens round the clock. 

The nation remains divided between all of the opposition parties and the international community who are unified in their criticism of GECOM and have called for sanctions on any illegitimate government.   The deep state PNC are demanding that all foreign observers including Caricom, remove themselves and let the GECOM body conclude the electoral process as it sees fit with the result accepted by the international community.

This battleground is being dominated by constitutional legal experts on both sides and a judiciary that has thus far demonstrated its commitment to upholding the rule of law. 

Let us let the lawyers do the fighting and may justice and democracy prevail and Guyanese receive the government they voted for.