An ongoing opinion tracking poll being conducted by the reputable North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) in Guyana finds widespread dissatisfaction with and declining popularity of the ruling coalition PNC led (APNU+AFC) government. As a result, there is very low voter enthusiasm among traditional government supporters for this Monday’s local government elections (LGE) and even less confidence in Gecom and its Chairman James Patterson, a former PNC judge, who was appointed by the government.
The poll was conducted by Dr. Vishnu Bisram who has been conducting opinion polls in Guyana since 1990. The election is billed as a semi-final for the general election due in mid 2020. No other election is planned before that time. The campaigns and outcomes for the locals have acquired seriousness as a precursor to the mid 2020 general elections. The poll predicts a PPP victory. The margin of victory for the opposition PPP will be a harbinger for things to come. Analysts can extrapolate the political trends witnessed in these local elections for the national election.
People seem uninterested in the elections and more concerned about their belly (bread and butter issues) and safety. Voter apathy is greater in the urban areas with a little more rank-and-file enthusiasm in rural areas like in the sugar belt that has been hit hard with estate closures. The poll respondents complain that local government elections are meaningless when too many people can’t make ends meet and when they are perennially worried they may become victims of criminals at virtually anywhere; almost everyone is concerned about out of control crime. The government has laid off over 10,000 workers. Poverty is widespread and growing with people complaining they are worse off now than three years ago.
Photo : Bharrat Jagdeo
The declining popularity of the coalition government is attributed primarily to the sagging economy, perceived widespread corruption, poor governance, mismanagement, increased unemployment, rising crime, and broken promises, among other reasons. They are fed up of bad governance. They complain about the VAT that was placed on so many goods and services and they failure of the government to check rise in prices of essential goods and fuel. Voters also complain there is a lack of development over the last 40 months since the coalition was installed in office. Government has failed spectacularly on tall promises. People say they are worse off today than under PNC. Even African voters are unhappy with their government saying they were better off under the PPP but they are not likely to vote for that party preferring instead to stick with their own ethnic party. People everywhere complain that government has failed to deliver on promised constitutional reforms to empower local governments (and their elected representatives) leaving them ineffective and powerless to service their constituents. The voters as well as candidates seeking elective office, from both sides of the aisle, say local governments should be vested with powers and resources to manage their own affairs. They also want a system in which they can exercise oversight over the all powerful national government and arrogant officials who have grown the breeches of their clothing.
The survey finds that the opposition PPP is projected to sweep the elections winning a huge majority of the eighty local organs (71 NDCs and 9 municipalities). Each local council has between 14 and 30 seats. Half of the seats in each council are fought under first past the post (FPP) and the other half under PR. The total votes (PR and FPP) a party receives should reflect a PR share of the total seats of the council.
The findings of the poll suggest the ruling APNU (PNC) and AFC are expected to suffer significant losses even in what are considered to be their traditional strongholds including in recently gerrymandered NDCs and constituencies (seats). It appears AFC is “rotten meat” as voters are not attracted to its meetings or expressing support for it; APNU is better especially in its strongholds. Still, it would take a lot of ground work to change angry minds to vote for APNU or AFC. There is fear of skullduggery especially in urban areas where there are challenges to put up polling agents to oversee fair voting.
Meanwhile, the PPP has been coasting even making gains in support in some government held NDCs; its leader Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo is enormously popular everywhere energizing the base. The former President has been involved in an aggressive campaign. The opposition URP, led by Dr. Vishnu Bandhu, is also making some showing.
People express concern about the fairness of the elections. Asked if they think, the local government elections will be free and fair, 39% said yes, 53% said no. The findings reveal 57% feel that the government has changed the boundaries (of NDCs and first past the post constituencies or seats) for political advantage; 34% don’t think so.
Fifty nine percent think government has been abusing state resources for electioneering as opposed to 32% who don’t think so. And a large 84% wants central government (6% oppose) to grant more autonomy to local government to manage their own affairs.
There is limited confidence in James Patterson as Gecom Chair. A large 63% do not approve of President David Granger’s appointment of James Patterson as Gecom Chair (as opposed to 21% who do). Asked if they support the appeal court’s ruling on the appointment of Patterson, 24% support it in contrast with 64% who disapprove of it. Some 69% do not agree with Gecom Chairman’s position to refuse United Nations help on elections with only 11% backing him and 20% not offering an opinion. Asked if foreign observers should have been invited for LGE, 71% said yes with 15% saying no and 14% unsure. Asked if they will vote, some 60% said no. Asked which party they will vote for, PPP gets the nod from over 60% and is projected to win a lopsided majority of seats. Surprisingly, many voters are unaware that they can’t vote because candidates in their NDCs won unopposed.
People everywhere complain about conditions in the country. And if given an opportunity to settle in the US, over 90% say they would migrate to America even with the oil earnings coming on stream in a year.
The poll also queried voters on social issues. The findings will be released in a subsequent report.