ISSUES considered good or bad in our history must be used as platforms and barometers in determining how we treat with the present and future.
Claims of rigged elections, whether in the political party’s leadership or at the national level, to secure power must be frowned upon by every individual who believes in respecting fundamental rights and the rule of law.
From 1953, when Guyanese began to enjoy universal adult suffrage, to the present, there have been claims of rigged elections, and not without merit. The double standards in the society, however, which we must come to grips with and confront, is that such claims must not only be attributed to the People’s National Congress (PNC) while the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is painted as innocent.
The struggle for free and fair elections has never stopped in this country. The struggle for one man, one vote (Universal Adult Suffrage) goes back to 1926 when Caribbean labour leaders met in Georgetown to map out and execute a strategy for the fight for internal self-government.
Where the process of electing representatives was and remains of concern is that of being able to freely exercise the franchise/vote, counting of the ballots, the votes cast duly accorded to the individual, group or party for which they were cast and accurate declaration of the results.
This struggle continues.
There is no need to address the issue of accusations pertaining to rigged elections by the PNC, as a party or government. The smallest child can speak to this claim every day, given that it has become part of the nation’s daily diet for years. What the society is seldom told are similar claims made of the PPP.
I am reliably advised that during the leadership of Cheddi Jagan, elections at PPP conferences were perpetually rigged. According to my source, the father of a senior politician in the Alliance For Change (AFC) served as Returning Officer (RO) for several of these elections. Reportedly, Jagan gave him the list of persons he wanted to be members of the General Council. Then, even before the votes were tallied and the results declared, the RO would stand before the conference and declare those persons whose names were prior identified the winners.
RIGGED ELECTIONS CLAIMS
There was a letter in the newspapers last week by Malcolm Harripaul. According to him, Jagan rigged the 1962 party elections by padding the list with 100 WPO members in order to deprive Balwant Singh Rai from being elected the party’s chairman.
Society cannot deny the challenges brought against Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte on the claims of rigged elections, while Jagan did not face a similar fate. We became a nation even more divided, where one group was held accountable, while another was allowed to escape. The claim that Burnham was solely responsible for the PPP split in the 1950s has also contributed to this divide.
Unto recently, I was following a social media discussion in which the claim has been made that Cheddi and Janet Jagan were imprisoned, and Burnham walked free because he sold out to the British to acquire political power. Discussions of that period in our history can only help the society when honesty exists, which would allow the chips to fall where they may, and the people to have a better understanding of events and the time in which they occurred.
Whether you like, hate or don’t care for either the Jagans or Burnham, the Jagans were not charged and imprisoned for being communists. They felt the wrath of the colonial authorities for breaking the law at the time. We can argue whether the law was just and fair, and it was necessary to challenge it.
What we cannot argue against is that their imprisonment had to do with some sinister act on Burnham’s part. This social media discussion stemmed from accusations being made as to which of the two men was deprived the opportunity to govern, or rigged the process to govern.
Elections in the days when Guyana had partial self-government saw petitions based on allegations of rigging. This was a period that included the leadership of Jagan and Burnham as premier. Another dynamic to the claim of rigged elections and manipulation of power is that Burhman was a scoundrel, and Jagan the gentleman.
THE 1964 ELECTIONS
Our history advises that the 1964 elections saw a coalition between the PNC and the United Force (UF). It was an arrangement that ended before the 1968 elections. A major characteristic of this relationship not talked about is that Burnham had to negotiate with Peter D’Aguiar of the UF to form a government; all we hear of is that he conned D’Aguiar then discarded him.
In 1992, the PPP contested elections, advising the nation that it had a Civic component. That Civic component never had a leader, or any negotiating strength or position. The Cabinet was named by Jagan, who arbitrarily selected whom he wanted to bring into the fold from the amorphous Civic component. There was no relationship of equals, nor that of negotiating.
All the elections that were held under the PNC leadership in government, we have been told, were rigged, and that both Burnham and Hoyte are to be held accountable for these claims. Local and international accusations were accompanied by pressure to have free and fair elections, but the nation is still to achieve this.
The 1992 elections saw thousands of PNC supporters dissatisfied with the process and results. There were allegations and instances of evidence of the process being rigged, though Hoyte accepted the declared results. There were stories told of ballots being printed by groups outside of the election machinery.
These elections saw voters whose names were on lists outside of the polling stations, but when they got inside to cast their ballots their names were not there. Persons saw their names on lists posted on the Polling Station the day prior, only to turn up on election day and discover that their names were removed. The PPP and international community declared the elections free and fair, and dubbed “the return of democracy” despite the process.
REINS OF POWER
In 1997, the PPP held the reins of government, and those elections were declared free and fair by the party and international observers. A petition challenging its integrity was brought before the High Court. That court vitiated the elections, citing malpractices, violations of the law and transgressing of citizens’ rights, which meant the elections were rigged.
Allegations of rigging also haunted the 2001 elections, though they were declared to be free and fair. Stories can be recounted of conflicting Statements of Poll (SOPs) and the participation of persons in the electoral administration handling records they were not authorised to have. Some of these SOPs took days to surface and arrive at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
In 2006, Gocool Boodhoo, Chief Election Officer, formally declared the PPP the winner with more votes than were cast in their favour. A geographic seat in Region 10 won by the AFC was given to the PPP, which Sam Hinds unashamedly sat on for the life of that Parliament. The PPP and international observers again declared the elections free and fair.
Were it not for the vigilance and intervention in 2011 of Commissioner Vincent Alexander, who thwarted Boodhoo’s devious intent of declaring an extra seat for the PPP, GECOM would have given that party a majority in the National Assembly. Again, the PPP and international observers declared the elections free and fair.
In 2015, the PPP lost the Parliament and Executive. The international community declared the elections free and fair, while the party continues to say they were rigged in favour of the APNU+AFC. It has since brought a challenge to the court and a decision is still being awaited. With the appointment of the new GECOM chair, the PPP has expressed fear that the 2020 elections will be rigged, and said it is going on an international trek to make known its concerns.
NO GENUINE CLAIM
This party can make no genuine claim about free and fair elections, be it within its ranks or stewardship in government. As the Burnham and Hoyte governments were accused of rigged elections when the elections apparatus was controlled by the State, the PPP governments, in like manner, must take responsibility for the claims of rigged elections during their stewardship.
Rigging is rigging; it is not about who rigged more than who. It is about tampering with the process, and depriving eligible citizens the right to vote. Where it is said to be bad or wrong under the PNC, it cannot be good or right under the PPP.
It must matter not whether any individual, group or organisation, whether local or international, makes claim to free and fair elections. Only when the process is not compromised, citizens not denied the right to vote, and the declaration of results is with the will of the people that free and fair elections have been achieved.
The struggle for this continues, and will continue under successive governments.