The results of Guyana local government elections (LGE) from last Monday are not surprising. As predicted by an opinion poll I conducted (for NACTA), even with gerrymandering of seats and constituencies and addition of NDCs, the PPP won a landslide victory – 52 out of 80 local authorities and tied in another five totaling 57. PNC (APNU) won 23 and tied PPP in five. As predicted, AFC was decimated not winning any authority and won a few seats. The PPP received some 55K votes more than PNC (APNU) and 45K more than APNU+AFC combine and it won a lopsided majority of overall seats as NACTA predicted even in some PNC traditional areas like Buxton-Foulis. In 2016, PPP won 25K more votes than the coalition. So there were huge gains.
The main reason for PPP landslide victory was turnout was predicted by NACTA. Government supporters were not very enthused to cast ballots whereas more PPP supporters came out to the voting booths resulting in wins in several seats where it was thought the opposition party had no chance as in the Foulis-Buxton NDC and in Georgetown and Linden. The election results confirmed that people voted largely along traditional race fault lines as NACTA found in its pre-election survey – Africans for PNC (APNU), Indians for PPP, Mixed and some Amerindians for AFC. In 2006, AFC was supported by Africans and Mixed. But by 2011, Africans and Mixed returned to their base. In 2011 and 2015, AFC was supported primarily by Indians and a sprinkling of Amerindians, Mixed and Portuguese. As the 2018 NACTA opinion poll correctly concluded, AFC has seen its Indian base dissipated. Indians wanted to punish AFC for not speaking out against racism experienced by its supporters. The AFC has now become a spent force and will have to re-assess its future.
Turnout was key to the outcome. In Georgetown, 28% voted as compared with some 40% in rural areas. In West Coast, turnout was around 50%. Only 43.5 per cent of the 91,475 voters turned out at on the Corentyne. However, it represented a higher voter turnout than in 2016. People did not come out in their numbers to vote because of their disappointment in APNU+AFC that many promises to the electorate in 2015 and hardly fulfilled them except for personal benefits. Voters decided to punish it by voting against it or staying away from the voting booths for failing to deliver on many of these promises including the key one to reform the constitution and empower local authorities. Instead of giving powers to the local authorities, the government removed powers from them and further empowered the central government.
As the voting trends suggested, issues did not matter in the election. Guyanese political commentator GHK Lall, writing in Stabroek News (Nov 6), asserted that people don’t vote on issues. He concluded that the recent takeover of the Berbice Bridge by the government, which he described as an act of gimmickry, would not earn government votes. While the government took action to maintain same toll rates by nationalizing the bridge, the act would not have much effect on how people vote. Lall was right; opposition supporters would not vote for PNC (APNU) or AFC. At any rate, people return to traditional voting patterns. Indians who supported AFC returned to PPP. There is traditional voting – which has not been disrupted except in 2011 and 2015 when Indians left the PPP and voted AFC. But most Indians who voted AFC have returned to the PPP saying the AFC has betrayed them by not championing their interests. Africans, in contrast, have stuck it out with their traditional party -- PNC (APNU). Nationalizing the bridge would not have earned the coalition additional votes since they vote race. And the PNC or APNU would not get Indian votes because of its history of persecuting them going back to the 1950s.
I traveled around Guyana two weeks before the elections querying peoples’ views on the local government elections (LGE) and how they had planned to vote. The coalition’s (APNU+AFC) support crested on a wave for political change in May 2015. One of the reasons voters gave is broken promises of the government as editorialized by Stabroek News (Nov 6). People started to move away from the coalition after so many broken promises beginning with the failure to honor $10K for a bag of paddy and insurance for destroyed crops. Current support for the PNC led government has been at its lowest. Government has been on the defense following one disastrous policy action after another over the last 40 months. There were so many faux pas or unforced errors or political blunders and its failure to unite the racially divided nation. People lost faith in the government.
With regards to actual outcome, APNU and PPP shared the honors of municipalities with each winning five. APNU won Linden, Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Madhia and Bartica while PPP won the others. In Georgetown, PPP won three of 15 constituencies and four PR seats for a total of seven, five more than in 2016 as indeed the NACTA poll predicted. APNU won 21 seats and AFC 1. In the second town of Linden, APNU got 13 of 16 seats in the council – two less than it won in 2016. The (AFC) won two seats while PPP secured one seat.
PPP won Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) big. Of 261 seats through 18 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDC) and three towns in the region – Corriverton, New Amsterdam and Rose Hall – AFC won only one seat while APNU won 73 and PPP 188. In New Amsterdam, PPP made a gain of one seat now controlling three. APNU has 10 seats and AFC 1.
In Whim/Bloom Field NDC, the PPP won 13 seats and APNU one with AFC drawing a blank. In Port Mourant, PPP won 13 seats and independent candidate Orin McDourga the remaining seat. The Kinlcoy/Hamphire NDC saw the PPP taking all 14 seats. The party also took a clean sweep in the Kinyre/Bolem NDC which has 16 seats.
In Region 5, Mahaica, PPP picked up 8356 votes as against 5960 for APNU, and 270 for AFC. The PPP won five of the 10 NDCs in that region, APNU four while there was a tie in one of the NDCs.
In Regions 2 (Essequibo) and 3 (West Bank and West Coast and the islands), PPP also won big.
Voters need to be empowered with responsible governance. Government should pass legislation granting autonomy to the local authorities.