A poll 'burden' for Guyana's Opposition


Rickey Singh

Sunday, January 22, 2012

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IN his haste to score a political point, the opposition leader in Guyana's new Parliament, David Granger, may have taken on an unnecessary burden that could embarrass him and the party he leads, amid increasing allusions/speculations of a snap general election within 15 months, if not earlier.

That burden relates to a statement he made last weekend and reported by the media.

He said that "there was no massive (my emphasis) tampering of votes" at the November 28, 2011 elections that had resulted in the incumbent PPP/C retaining the Government under an executive presidency, but losing control, by one seat, of the 65-member National Assembly, resulting in the creation of a minority administration.

Granger, the 65-year-old retired Brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force, currently heads the political coalition known as A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).

To follow the expressed contention of the APNU's chairman, he now seems to have a moral and political obligation to explain, not just for the benefit of his own supporters but the Guyanese electorate as a whole, what percentage, if any, of the officially declared results by the independent, bi-partisan Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) may have been tampered with, presumably to the disadvantage of the coalition of parties he heads.

This would be quite a reasonable approach, given the vehemence with which Granger has been passionately demanding from GECOM verification of 'statements of poll'. These, incidentally, were provided to all three contesting parties — the incumbent PPP; APNU and its unofficial ally, Alliance for Change (AFC) — within a fortnight of the election, and long before APNU was ready to declare its list of nominees for Parliament.

GECOM, with varying changes in personnel, has been conducting national elections since its establishment for the 1992 poll — the year when electoral democracy was finally restored in Guyana after 24 years of institutionalised and confirmed rigged elections under the People's National Congress (now the overwhelming dominant component in APNU).

GECOM'S Stance

All those elections were declared "free and fair" by independent national, regional and international observer missions, as happened for last November's poll with the PNC-dominated APNU as a first-time contestant.

GECOM's chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, had explained to the media that while the commission was under no constitutional obligation to deliver 'statements of poll' to any of the contesting parties, it had done so to avoid unnecessary allegations and was consistent with its own commitment to transparency in the electoral process.

The official results, which came within the third day of the election after previously recurring logistical problems in transportation of sealed ballot boxes from far-flung regions, were: The PPP — 32 of the 65 seats with 166,340 votes, or 48.62 per cent; APNU — 26 seats based on 139,678 votes, or 40.83 per cent; and the AFC — seven seats from 35,333 votes, or 10.33 per cent.

When the 10th Guyana Parliament met last week for the swearing-in of the new MPs and the election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the APNU and AFC opted to depart from established conventions by ignoring a tripartite approach, favoured by the PPP, and chose to take both posts from within their own ranks. The AFC leader was chosen as Speaker with APNU's Deborah Backer as Deputy Speaker.

Then came last weekend's media disclosure of the abandonment by APNU of its originally sought-after verification process of statements of poll. "We do not expect," he said (as reported by the online news agency Demerarawaves) that the verification will reverse the major outcomes of the 2011 elections, but we will still need to get it right..." Further, Granger disclosed, he did not "contemplate that the results would be challenged in the court".

Of course, you have to be in possession of evidence of wrongdoing to initiate court proceedings. In the circumstances, therefore, the APNU chairman should enlighten the Guyanese electorate under what circumstances he and his party had discovered there was "no massive tampering of votes".

Two Views

Would it be correct to assume, for instance, that while APNU, as well as its AFC ally, knew that there was no "rigging" of the election results it had, nevertheless, expediently opted to keep the "political pot" boiling with such an allegation that helped fuel anti-PPP Government street protests and sustain falsehood about being robbed of a "victory" it had promised supporters during the campaign?

Two views could perhaps be applied to the APNU chairman's scuttling of his earlier unsubstantiated claims of implicit electoral improprieties that were never presented for public assessment:

* First, that he and his party apparently did not come up with evidence to support claims of vote-tampering that could have embarrassed the GEGOM and influence proceedings in a court to declare the results null and void.

* Second, that upon sober reflection that favoured political maturity over irresponsible politicking to fuel disturbances that can hurt the national interest of Guyana, the APNU chairman settled for closure of a scenario of his own creation with the declaration of "no massive tampering of votes".

Knowing Granger as I did, long before his active involvement in electioneering politics, I prefer to believe that political maturity trumped sterile negative politics, and that even amid prevailing speculations of impending fiscal/economic problems from lack of government/opposition co-operation, it is better to hope than despair — in Guyana's interest.

Nevertheless, will the Guyanese electorate be enlightened by APNU about the difference between "no massive", "small", or whatever scale of vote-tampering may have occurred at the November 28 poll?

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