A number of new parties have created electoral history in Guyana by, for the first time, joining together to form a combination of lists whose votes shall be combined to determine the number of seats they will collectively obtain. This has never happened before and is not quite the full-fledged unity among new parties that many have called for. But it reflects the determination of new parties to create a unified effort to challenge the electoral domination of the major parties which are forced by the Guyanese context to strive for ethno-political domination as their core, but unspoken, political objective. New parties have struggled for a unification of their efforts, which has been driven by a deep and profound desire among a critical mass of the Guyanese electorate for a path out of the dead end of ethnic politics which threatens to engulf us for 20, 30, even 40 years in the future, being the aspiration of one ambitious leader. Not unexpectedly, the electorate is revolting against this objective and the new parties, by this agreement, hope to derail such ambitions from any source whatsoever.Read more
On Friday last, 13 political parties submitted lists of candidates to the Elections Commission in a self-nomination process to contest the general and regional elections on March 2. There was a full turnout of dignitaries – members of the Elections Commission and the diplomatic corps. Even though they were merely observers, their presence lent gravitas to the occasion. The only sour note in the entire process was APNU+AFC’s ‘success’ in catapulting itself into first place to present its lists after three parties, The New Movement (TNM), the United Republican Party (URP) and A New and United Guyana (ANUG) had camped out in front of the Umana Yana for several days and APNU+AFC showed up on Friday morning and mysteriously displaced the three small parties that had made the effort to secure an early place. It is hoped that this type of behavior, referred to many as “bullyism,’ especially of small parties, would not characterize the election campaign. However, the contingents of APNU+AFC and the PPP/C outside the Umana Yana were in good spirits and showed no signs of antagonism. Of course, they were not there at the same time.
The large number of small parties, 11 in all, is a new feature at these elections, having showed a decline in recent years as a result of the introduction of geographical constituencies in 2001. A minimum number of 6 of these constituencies have to be contested and each list has to be supported by the signatures of 150 persons who are registered to vote. These elections obviously have something special that has attracted the interest of small parties. Having regard to their varied platforms, it is clear that the re-emergence of small parties at this time, notwithstanding the difficult requirements, is reflective of the grave dissatisfaction with the agenda of the major political parties and the adherence to ethnic voting patterns, which ignores the vital issues affecting the country. Most small parties believe that the policies of the major parties cater to ethnic interests and no or little effort is made to bring the people of Guyana together. The apotheosis of these policies was the no confidence motion and the clear violation of the Constitution which has totally disgusted small parties and is one of the reasons that inspired them to enter the political arena.
The financing of political campaigns without accountability can lead to corruption and it often does. This is the reason why there are campaign finance laws. In many countries, these laws are extensive and are enforced. Several election cycles ago in Guyana the issue of the reform of campaign finance laws was raised by Mr. Christopher Ram. He got nowhere for his pains but has doggedly stayed on course. Others have since weighed in on the issue, including Transparency International Guyana and David Hinds of the WPA. At one time the AFC promised campaign finance reform but that party appears not to have been able to persuade its senior coalition partner, APNU, to support such a project. Latterly, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, has made some serious, supportive comments on campaign finance reform. But there are still issues as to whether our political culture will sustain it.
At the basic level, there are too fundamental objectives of campaign finance reform, namely, to know who makes the contribution and to limit the amount of the contribution. These ensure, firstly, that the public would know the identity of the contributor and, secondly, the size of the contribution is not large enough to purchase influence. It is believed that public knowledge of these matters would tend to limit the potential for corruption. It is routine in Guyana, and many other Caribbean countries, that those who make significant contributions to losing parties suffer discrimination or are fearful that they would do so. Political discrimination is rife in Guyana and is frequently on public display for all to see. Therefore, it is believed that if there is a requirement for disclosure of names, contributions will dry up. If the amounts which can be contributed are limited, it is certain that political parties would not be able to raise enough funds to contest elections. These are the essential reasons why our major political parties have not been keen on campaign finance reform.
There has been much discussion about the number of small parties which have announced their intention to contest the elections due on March 2, 2020. The formation of small parties at election time is not unusual in Guyana. Prior to 2001, before the amendment of the laws to provide for constituencies, many small parties contested elections. The requirement at that time was merely to provide a list of 65 nominees for the National Assembly, supported by 300 registered voters.
The Guyana Constitution provides that if the National Assembly decides, half of its seats can be contested by the first past the post system, providing that the other half of the seats is distributed to the parties that have contested the elections in such a way as to ensure that the seats that they receive are in direct proportion to the votes obtained. The Constitution Reform Commission of 1999-2001, having this constitutional provision in mind, recommended that the electoral system be reformed to provide for an element of first past the post.
If one of the two main political groups in Guyana, the Peoples’ Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) or the A Partnership For National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) achieves an absolute majority at the March 2 general elections, one half of the population will feel alienated. This alienation has been the signal feature of Guyana’s politics since 1957. It has grown progressively worse since then, aggravated by and/or resulting in Guyana’s history of electoral manipulation, discrimination, and criminal and civil violence since 1962.
To eliminate this albatross, Guyana needs a political system where the main political parties alternate in power every two terms, or one where the two political parties share power equally. Since the former is difficult to constitutionally structure under a system of free, but adversarial, elections, the latter appears to be the only route out of a political dilemma which has emerged from the existence in Guyana of two large ethnic blocs that manifest their insecurities in fixed electoral choices.