Who will commit to fight for Free and Fair Elections

Who will commit to fight for Free and Fair Elections

Photo : Presidents Jimmy Carter

During the period (1966-92) of the PNC ethnic dictatorship, a handful of Guyanese in the diaspora assisted in the struggle for free and fair elections in their former homeland. That group of freedom fighters is not enthusiastic to lead or even join the campaign for an election free of fair and free from fear.

An appeal is being made to the diaspora to help secure a fair election in 2020. Will the diaspora rise again to help protect the ballot in their former homeland in light of the shabby treatment they have received by successive governments since 1992?

Elections were rigged in Guyana between 1968 and 1992 to keep the PNC dictatorship in power. Is the past a prelude to what could or may happen in 2020? Is it fair to use the historical experience to conclude the next election may be rigged? Last year's local elections were free and fair. But some feel it is better to take precautionary measures against potential electoral fraud.

During the period of the dictatorship, the diaspora, particularly in the US (though not exclusively) led the international aspects of the struggle to restore democratic rule in their former homeland. A handful of us lobbied the US government (Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr Administrations) and Members of Congress to put pressure on the Guyanese dictatorship to return the country to democratic rule and an open economy that existed prior to independence in 1966. We used our own funds as the diaspora was not willing to invest in the struggle although they harvested the benefits. The US (and U.K.) was responsible for installing the PNC into office in 1964 and propping up the dictatorship to keep the pro-Soviet socialist PPP out. After the Cold War ended in 1990, with communist PPP no longer a major concern to the West, and as Guyanese Americans appealed to Washington to help liberalize their former homeland, the US began to apply pressure on the Hoyte dictatorship to pursue economic and political reforms including allowing a free press and a fair election. Aid was tied to free and fair elections certified by international observers. Hoyte caved in to the demand by Washington for Jimmy Carter Center to observe the election; Carter Center itself was lobbied by Guyanese Americans to observe the elections.

A relatively fair election was held in October 1992 under international supervision resulting in the defeat of the PNC. Democratic governance and free and fair election would not have been possible without US intervention which came about largely through that very important and direct role played by a handful of us in the US. The diaspora in the U.K., Canada, Trinidad, and other countries also lent a helping hand. The PPP returned to office; but the role of the diaspora in the restoration of democracy was never really acknowledged or fully appreciated.

The relationship between the PPP government and its supporters abroad would turn sour after the deaths of the Jagans. Many among those who championed the cause for free and fair election and helped the PPP to capture office felt disrespected and unappreciated and fell out from the PPP post Jagan. They were marginalized and alienated from the party leadership. Many would eventually join the AFC in 2011 supporting Moses Nagamootoo, then viewed as a political giant, who defected from PPP to AFC because of his own mistreatment.

The disgruntled PPPites and many others in the diaspora campaigned to defeat the PPP in 2015. And in Canada, US, UK, Trinidad, etc., they celebrated the PPP fall from office although now they themselves have become disillusioned with the rule of the PNC-AFC coalition for disrespecting them. Several among them do express a feeling that the next election is not likely to be free and fair, and they also say they will like to remove the coalition for disrespecting them. But they are not prepared to return to the PPP or to help it win the next election unless the leadership expresses regret for ill- treating them and or shows the party has been thoroughly reformed.

They complain about a few in one faction of the ACG within the PPP support that alienated and disrespected a lot of the members. The former activists are not prepared to work with the leadership of that faction that is seeking to play a leading role in a new movement from NYC. Would the former US based activists take a hands off approach on calls to help secure a free and fair election in 2020? So far, enthusiasm to assist with elections in Guyana is lacking. There have not been many takers as the Diaspora has been treated too badly over the years. They don't want to be burnt again. The proverb "Once bitten twice shy" is apt here.

Many of the former disenchanted activists and new activists in New York are openly expressing support for the newly formed RISE, but in light of being burnt twice (by PPP and AFC) they are not committed as yet to be a part of any campaign for a free and fair election. The diaspora wants a free and fair election but will not blindly commit resources and time to champion it.

The adage or proverb twice bitten, three times shy applies here. All previous promises were broken. The political parties and their leaders will have to come very good courting the diaspora and providing them a lot of guarantees before the diaspora rejoins any campaign to secure a free and fair election in their former homeland.