Guyana Parties Should Agree for UN to Manage Elections

My conversations with Guyanese reveal they also fear that election results may not reflect will of the voters. In short, they fear the election will be rigged as happened between 1965 and 1992 when the PNC was in government.

Guyana Parties Should Agree for UN to Manage Elections
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will issue consequential orders on July 12 on how to proceed in Guyana on the rulings of the validity of the no confidence vote (NCV) and illegal actions of the president in appointing the Chairman of the Guyana elections commission (Gecom). On June 18 the court ruled that the NCV was validly passed on December 21 and that the President violated the constitution in his unilateral appointment of the Gecom Chair. The court advised the contending parties (disputants) to meet and work out a political solution which the court could sign on. The two sides failed to meet. Now, the court is forced to issue orders without violating the spirit of the constitution. The two sides have until July 12 to reach a consensus on what the court should do -  a political solution. But it is unlikely that the government will agree to early elections and the opposition to agree to an extension of the deadline for elections. There is a stalemate which the court will have to break.

It does not appear that the two sides, President Granger and Opposition Leader Jagdeo and APNU+AFC and PPP, will meet soon and reach any agreement (consensus) on appointing a Gecom Chair or set a firm timeline for elections. On June 18, the CCJ had urged the two sides to come to agreement by June 24 on orders the court should issue and they failed to meet. On June 24, the two sides reported to the court they could not meet much less arrive at any agreement on how to proceed with a Gecom chair appointment and a date for elections. The PPP insisted that the Gecom Chair must go and replaced by a nominee of the opposition as required by the constitution. The PPP also insisted that elections be held within three months as required by the constitution. The (APNU-AFC) government insisted that elections cannot be held within three months and wants the court to explain how the constitution was violated in Gecom appointment. The court extended the deadline to meet and resolve the issue by July 1 (date set for written submission of suggestions for consequential orders). By July 1, the two sides still failed to meet, much less discuss the issues.  The two sides are wrangling over the nominees of a Gecom chair. Since the court met on June 24, the Gecom Chair, James Patterson, a former judge, resigned, a week after the court’s ruling that he was unlawfully appointed.

The court had stated on June 24 that the sides could try to reach a solution until July 12 when the court will issue its orders on what must be done. The court’s orders are final. They must be carried out. The two sides should try to resolve this political problem relieving the court to impose a solution on what is a political problem. The ABC countries and other democracies like India should put pressure on both sides to meet and honor the language of the constitution.

Clearly, there is much distrust between the sides on monitoring the elections. Both sides are fearful of fraudulent elections and that the Gecom Chair could favor one side over the other. Both sides have three commissioners on Gecom and voting has almost always been tied; the two sides can’t reach agreement. So the chair’s position becomes critical. The Chair breaks the tie vote. Since the appointment of Patterson in October 2017, he has sided with the government on all votes. The Chair has not been objective or fair. In fact, he was accused of being racially biased denying appointment at Gecom to Indians and others not of his ethnicity.

My conversations with Guyanese reveal they also fear that election results may not reflect will of the voters. In short, they fear the election will be rigged as happened between 1965 and 1992 when the PNC was in government. So a neutral chair is very critical for both sides. A foreign chair should be considered – perhaps one appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations.

On the issue of race, a poll I am conducting in Guyana reveals a very racially polarized nation in which Indians and Africans are fully behind their parties (PPP and PNC respectively). Accepting election results will not be easy without some foreign presence like the UN. And g governing Guyana will not be easy unless election results are accepted by both sides. The country will not make progress after elections unless both sides feel the outcome reflects the will of the voters and that every eligible voter’s name is on the list.

Since it has become a heated or controversial political issue that does not lend itself to an easy solution, I suggest that both sides meet and work out an agreement for the United Nations to manage (run) the elections.  It will save Guyanese the expense of organizing the elections. The UN was in charge of holding elections in several polarized societies when the contending parties could not reach an agreement on a way forward. The UN will ensure that free and fair elections are held in Guyana and that no one is denied the right to vote. The UN Secretary General and its security forces will also make sure a credible election is held and the results accepted. The UN has forces that can be posted in Guyana to ensure peace and stability. Both sides should be comfortable with a neutral institution managing the elections.