The Guyana America Democracy Project (GADP), an organization comprising of Guyanese and other Americans, wrote the several Members of Congress (MOC) who recently visited Guyana expressing Guyanese fear of election rigging in their former homeland. The organization advised, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). The organization points out several troubling signs of actions and policies from the government that is designed to facilitate electoral rigging.
The team of eight members (plus one who withdrew from the planned trip) of the US House of Representatives visited Guyana in late August on a facts finding mission. The group was headed by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (Chair of Judiciary Committee). They met with President Granger and other members of his administration. The GADP letter to MOC was sent at the time of their visit to Guyana. And since then, much has happened in Guyana to further cast a shadow over the upcoming local government elections. These new happenings designed to subvert the democratic process will be highlighted in a follow up memo to the US Congress.Excerpts of the letter appear below.
In the August memo to the MOC, GADP welcomed and praised the members for undertaking the trip to their former homeland. GADP noted that it was an opportune time for such an esteemed visit because of the grave concern over planned election rigging. It would allow the MOC to understand the devious practices that were put in place to scuttle democratic values and institutions and their effects on the nation. “The costs of a rigged election adversely affect current and future generations for many, many years. Electoral rigging can also trigger many types of adverse behavior in crimes and violence, for example, that were recently witnessed in many countries like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Mali, and Guyana in the past”.
The letter pointed out that the fear of rigging has been rattling the nerves of Guyanese especially that the government has been found to be very unpopular. “In a June-July 2018 NACTA poll, at least 56% of Guyanese believe that the 2020 polls will not be free and fair”. The NACTA poll also found “that 62% of Guyanese are dissatisfied with the quality of governance, while 84% said that they are not better off now than they were 3 years ago when the regime was propelled into office”. The unpopularity of the government has influenced political decision to subvert democracy.
The letter pointed out and praised the valuable oversight role played by President Jimmy Carter in the 1992 elections and subsequent elections as well. “This is testimony of the widespread fears about electoral rigging in Guyana”.
The memo further noted: “Already, the Minister of Communities and the Chair of GECOM (Elections Commission) are altering the configuration of electoral boundaries without any consultation with the affected communities and stakeholders. Local government election (LGE) is due on November 12, 2018. Critics have called upon GECOM to set up an impartial body to carry out the configuration of electoral boundaries but this has been rejected. There is grave concern that since the PNC-led coalition government received only 30.8% of the votes at LGE in 2016, compared with the opposition party’s 65.5% votes, opposition forces and NGOs believe that the PNC-led government is engaged in gerrymandering to secure electoral advantage”.
The GADP memo pointed out “from 1968 to 1986, the PNC Party had rigged successive general elections in Guyana. The American, British and Canadian (ABC) countries are aware of rigging under the PNC’s rule”. It quoted a memo from the Deputy Chief of Mission, Theodore J. C. Heavner (1969-1971) at the US Embassy in Guyana that stated:
“In 1968, just a year before I got there, Burnham was still fresh in the job and Jagan was still waiting in the wings expecting to be elected at the next election and not unreasonably so since he was the undoubted leader of the Indian population in that country….He was a very charismatic figure in the Indian community. Burnham, however, in power was repeatedly able to arrange that the elections didn’t come out that way. They were rigged and we knew they were rigged and that was fine with us. In those days, we thought we could not risk having a second communist country in our own hemisphere.”
The GADP letter went on: “Many signs of probable rigging at the 2020 elections have already emerged. The PNC-led coalition, for example, has unilaterally appointed a PNC operative James Patterson as Chair of GECOM, an act that was contrary to Article 161(2) to the Guyana constitution which requires that the President (Granger) and the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Jagdeo, agree on the appointee; a process set forth in a formula worked out by President Carter and George Price, and which has been enshrined in the Guyana constitution. Not only that, Mr Vishnu Persaud, a former Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO), was the highest ranked candidate for the open position of DCEO in 2018 but he was nevertheless bypassed for that position which was given to a less qualified candidate, a PNC operative. There has been public outcry about this case that was aptly described as blatant discrimination”.
The GADP letter further stated: “As if these aberrations have not been enough to heighten national tensions and extreme pre-election fears of dictatorship in Guyana, the Ministry of Immigration ordered 300,000 birth certificates (equivalent to 40% of the country’s population) which far exceed what the country needs. What is even more alarming was that the PNC-led administration also conducted voter registration on Mashramani Day (February 2018), a national holiday, for their PNC’s overseas-based supporters to put them on the voters’ list. Opposition and NGOs fear that the birth certificates will be issued mostly to foreigners and underage persons so that they could vote in the 2020 general election”.
The letter notes that “electoral rigging not only negatively impacts a citizen’s vote but it is also unconstitutional, illegal and a violation of citizens' rights. It is a violation of human rights. Asides from rigging, the government has been working systematically to dismantle the doctrine of “Separation of Powers,” and replace that with Burnhamism, an ideology that embraces party paramountcy and dictatorship. Already, the executive (government) controls the army, the police, paramilitary forces, the corporations, the commissions, state agencies and boards, and the Parliament. The Judiciary is wobbling under constant governmental interference”.
The GADP memo points to the attempt of the government “to conceal the Exxon $(US) 18 million signing bonus” which it describes as “a fuzzy status of these funds”. Guyanese fear that part of these funds was going to be siphoned off into the governing coalition’s 2020 election campaign.
The GADP letter points to the history of rigging by the PNC. It notes that: “Rigging took place on a widespread scale when the PNC was in power (1968-1992), and there is an abundance of evidence of rigging in Guyana”. It stated: “The popular Granada TV Program World in Action aired on December 11, 1968 their famous documentary ‘Trail of the Vanishing Vote,’ and on January 6, 1969 they aired another documentary, ‘Making of a Prime Minister.’ There are other compelling stories of rigging in YouTube. For example, the presentation, “A Look How PNC Burnham rigged 1973 Elections in Guyana,” that was published on March 17, 2015.
The PNC regime used the entire state bureaucracy, the army and the judiciary to rig elections. Any local opposition was ruthlessly suppressed. Rigging was so widespread that two Guyanese men, Jagan Ramessar and Parmanand Bholanauth, were shot and killed by the GDF during the 1973 elections at No-63 Village, Corentyne, when they attempted to protect the ballot boxes from being hijacked by PNC operatives. They have been memorialized as the ‘Ballot Box Martyrs.’
And more recently, GECOM admitted in 2015 that they received several fake Statements of Polls (SOPs). In many PNC strongholds, the elections returns exceeded 100%. Former Guyana President Donald Ramoutar says that he is convinced that the 2015 elections were rigged. (Stabroek New: 8/17/2018). This was facilitated mainly through the issuance of fake SOPs (Statement of Polls). In region 8, where the PPP lost that seat by one vote, GECOM refused to conduct a recount. The Opposition filed a petition to challenge the results of the 2015 election, but over 3 years have now elapsed and a date for the hearing has not yet be fixed.
GADP states “electoral rigging is considered as a form of coup d’état. It is capturing political power by disenfranchising or robbing voters of their inalienable rights to choose the candidates or party of their choice to run their country’s affairs. The experience of the 2015 election is still fresh in people’s memory”.
GADP believes that “defending democracy is a scared duty. To disenfranchise voters of inalienable right to vote for a candidate or party of their choice is not only unconstitutional but also a massive blow to democracy. Rigging an election is the most disruptive and corrupt practice to topple democratic institutions and install a dictatorship. It destroys the people’s sovereignty and makes a mockery of the constitution. Democracy becomes a casualty of rigging and once democracy collapses so does development as the two processes work in a symbiotic relationship”.
As a recommendation that rigging never happens again, many Guyanese feel that Parliament should pass a law to allow GECOM to conduct mandatory recounts of close races where the difference between victory and defeat is small (5% or less). Also there should be criminal penalties for offences connected to rigging.
GADP warns that as Guyanese Americans, “we cannot allow the progress that the country has made over the past twenty five years to dissipate because of ineffective governance, mismanagement and corruption, and worse to allow Guyanese’ rights to be smothered through electoral rigging”.
The organization appeals to the US congressional delegation “to work with us to ensure that there is free and fair election, as this doctrine is the foundation for democracy. We wish the chairman and his delegation, a safe, productive and enjoyable stay in our beautiful country”.
(GADP is not affiliated to any political party; it comprises an independent group of Guyanese scholars committed to democracy and the free enterprise system in Guyana and elsewhere in the Caribbean).