The ethnic card used for gaining political power
Power in a democracy can only be taken via the ballot box. And from all indications, the Guyanese people have spoken.

by Prem Misir
Guyana Chronicle
April 22, 2001

ALL political parties accepted the rules of engagement for the March 19 elections.

Yet today, a month after the elections, we are witnessing a perceived conniving exercise by the People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) to modify the election rules, in order to secure entrance to the power threshold.

Two elements in this exercise include disenfranchisement of PNC/R supporters, and the significance of the PNC/R's 42% win. These are issues that could have been discussed and resolved prior to March 19.

Moreover, people need to keep in mind that it was the PNC/R that aggressively pushed for the holding of elections sooner than later, the clarion call starting months before January 17, 2001.

The element of disenfranchisement of PNC/R supporters implies that eligible voters are prevented from voting when their right to vote is clearly enshrined in the Constitution.

The outcome of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) audit will shed light on this 'disenfranchisement' issue. Until then, all stakeholders need to be responsible and wait, unless they have verifiable evidence of disenfranchisement.

Given that the Constitution enfranchises all eligible voters, and given the presence of an independent GECOM, it is the moral responsibility of political parties to prevent disenfranchisement of their members and supporters.

To the extent that a party's members and supporters were disenfranchised, that party has failed in its job to protect its members and supporters' right to vote.

Only two groups might have had difficulties to vote, and these are: those with national ID cards but not on the final voters list; and those who were geographically dislocated, that is, registered in one district but photographed in another district.

According to the donor community, there were only about three persons from each of the 1,800 or so polling stations, who came from these two groups. This means that only about 5,000 persons who were possibly eligible to vote, did not vote.

In any case, we will have to await the outcome of the audit.

The 42% cry by the PNC/R could have credibility and legitimacy, depending on what the rules of engagement are.

In the current electoral system, the rule was clear to all contesting parties that the party with 51% of the vote forms the government. This rule was agreed upon prior to parties entering the electoral process.

Therefore, in this context, the PNC/R's sniveling and whining of their 42% win smacks of a clear intention, implicitly and explicitly, to reinterpret and change the rules of the electoral process to their advantage.

Let's review the electoral results of other countries, focusing particularly on the oppositions' percentage share of the votes. The election results follow:

Barbados (1999)
Barbados Labour Party 65.4%
Democratic Labour Party 34.6%
The Labour Party formed the government.

Australia (1998) - all parties not included
Labour 40%
Liberal 34.1%
The Labour Party formed the government.

Great Britain (1997) - all parties not included
Labour 43.2%
Liberal 30.7%
The Labour Party formed the government.

United States of America (2000) - all parties not included
Republican 48%
Democratic 48%
The Electoral College chooses the President. The Republican Party formed the government.

Trinidad & Tobago (2001) - all parties not included
UNC 19 seats
PNM 16 seats
The UNC formed the government.

The interpretation of the percentage share of votes for all parties is based on the agreed rules of engagement as provided for in the Constitutions of these countries.

The opposition party in each country obtained a sizeable proportion of votes, but not enough to form a government. Their contribution and participation in the governance process are made in Parliament via substantial committee work.

These could also include representation on boards and oversight committees serving as a watchdog on government activities.

However, in Guyana, there is a highly publicised perception that the opposition's 42% of the votes are sufficient to form a government.

The PNC/R has used the 42% win to bargain for a dialogue with the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).

But in the nature of dialogue, the utility of compromise, and in the just outcomes we expect, no pre-conditions can exist.

More seriously, the dialogue must not be allowed to drive the Administration's agenda. It, however, can contribute to that agenda.

The dialogue between President Bharrat Jagdeo and leader of the PNC/R Mr. Desmond Hoyte is set for Tuesday.

However, two disturbing elements cloud the talks. One, Hoyte has not conceded defeat at the March 19 elections, and two, the PNC/R executed a protest on Friday, notwithstanding their agreement for next week's dialogue.

Both elements demonstrate the PNC/R's bad faith in the preparation and planning stage for this dialogue.

The post-election protests have produced their own share of violence in which both East Indian and African Guyanese have succumbed as innocent victims.

What I find rather disturbing, however, is the minimum publicity given to the physical assault and robbery inflicted on East Indian Guyanese.

Talk-show hosts, in the main, are mum about the violence inflicted on East Indian Guyanese during and after protests organised by the PNC/R.

We have a moral duty to speak out and oppose violence perpetrated against any Guyanese.

It's tempting to explain this post-election violence solely through racism which is an ideology that depicts another group as being congenitally inferior to one's own group.

I will leave that pronouncement to the Guyanese people. What I would say, however, is that the current ethnic conflict is a weapon invariably used as a subterfuge, enabling political aspirants to gain advantage at electoral times.

Ethnic conflicts, deeply rooted in colonialism, have shaped the behaviours of all non-Whites, and where, in this context, the quest for political power today exploits ethnic diversity to gain political advantage.

In effect, these ethnic conflicts manifested by post-election street protests, seem to be utilised by a failed political party as a gambit for racism.

The failed party's agitation for street protests, primarily, may not be related to racism, but more associated with its loss of political power and its obsession to regain political control. Under these circumstances, a losing political party at election times needs the ethnic card to sustain its level of ethnic violence in protests.

Without the ethnic card, a failed party would be unable to sustain street protests in a multiethnic social fabric.

When the dialogue begins, the PPP/C's strength will be sustained through its mandate from the March 19 polls. Some compromises should be made based on realistic and fundamentally fair claims as opposed to frivolous accusations and innuendoes.

Although Guyana is at the crossroads, power cannot be taken by any means necessary, and indeed, not through perceived intimidation as galvanised by the street protests.

Power in a democracy can only be taken via the ballot box. And from all indications, the Guyanese people have spoken.

Both the PPP/C and the PNC/R have to continue to expand their multiethnic grassroots base, if we will see an end to post-elections violence.

Power sharing will not suffice, as it breeds fragmented vested interests, inimical to nation building.