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Editorial | Resolving Guyana’s crisis

Published:Friday | March 20, 2020 | 12:14 AM

It’s everyone’s wish that good sense and constitutional order prevail, and that Guyana quickly resolves who won the election of a fortnight ago, without descending into the instability and violence that threaten the country. For, that would not only be bad for Guyana, but its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

It is, in part, for that reason, notwithstanding this week’s failure by a group of regional leaders to broker a settlement to the crisis, we urge CARICOM to continue its engagement of the protagonists into the dispute, with the aim, once the dust has settled, of a longer-term programme for building electoral capacity and supporting political dialogue in the country. That conversation must include a frank discourse on how race and ethnicity exacerbates the country’s fragile political culture, which is manifest every time Guyanese go to vote, especially when elections are close, as has been the case in recent years.

In the Guyanese environment, the March 2 election was always going to be problematic, triggered, as it was, by the collapse of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) coalition, which lost its one-seat majority in December 2018, when one of its members voted with the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). It took more than a year of court challenges, followed by a creation of a new voters register, for the election to be held.

In Guyana, election to the 65-seat national assembly is on the basis of proportional representation, with electors deciding on the basis of electoral lists put up by parties. Twenty-five of the assembly seats are on the basis of geographic allocations.

At the conclusion of the count in nine of the country’s 10 geographic regions, the PPP/C group was reported to be leading by around 59,000, which the APNU/AFC would have to overcome to retain the government. The electoral authorities suggested, on the basis of their count in the critical Region 4, the coastal heartland of APNU/AFC’s mainly Afro-Guyanese support had done enough to retain their one-seat majority. The PPP/C is backed primarily by Indo-Guyanese.

Amid allegations about the integrity of the counting process, Guyanese chief justice, Roxanne George, upheld a petition for a recount of the Region 4 votes, in accordance with the election law. However, President David Granger and PPP/C leader Bharrat Jagdeo, in a deal brokered by the CARICOM prime ministers, led by Barbados’ Mia Mottley, agreed to go further by recounting all the votes. Before that could happen, an ostensibly private citizen gained an injunction to prevent the recount, or the upsetting of previous returns.


This newspaper believes in adherence to the law and the primacy of constitutions to the functioning of liberal democracies, so do not begrudge people’s access to the courts to resolve fundamental principles of law. We, however, do not support cynical manipulation of institutions, and hope this isn’t the case with regard to the latest intervention. It would be a shame if this were a case of the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau. In other words, we expect all parties to act in good faith.

Whatever the final determination of the election, it will probably be again close, perhaps similar to the result of the 2015 poll, or the election before that, when PPP/C got a plurality of the votes, but not a majority. It governed as a minority administration.

In such situations, it is important citizens have confidence in the electoral process. That is even more important in Guyana, where the ethnic divide deepens suspicions. Perhaps, after the dust has settled on this matter, CARICOM might offer the Guyanese long-term assistance for the overhaul and management of their electoral system, the appointment of a non-Guyanese CARICOM citizen as the chief elections officer. CARICOM should, perhaps, also seek to promote the development of a mechanism for ongoing confidence-building dialogue between the parties, including the removal of some issues from partisan political discourse.