Some foreign observers are unaware of Guyana’s electoral history. One wonders whether such observers are qualified to observe Guyana’s elections. They would not know, for example, that by itself, this history creates a perpetual tension at election time because of general fears of a repeat of election rigging. They would not know also that this is why after twenty-eight years since 1992, Guyana’s first free and fair elections after a generation, Guyana still requires election observers. The suspicion created by this history has resulted in allegations by the PNC and PNCR that the elections of 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2006, which they lost, were rigged against them. And not to be outdone, the PPP claimed that the elections of 2015, which it lost to APNU+AFC by some 5,000 votes, were rigged against it. These elections were all found to be free and fair by foreign observers.
Election day and post-election violence, coupled with the inordinate delay of more than a week for the declaration of results, have all conspired to create additional tension. There was extensive post-election violence in 1992, 1997 and 2001 when many people were hurt. There was election day violence up to 2015. On this occasion the stakes are alleged to be higher and thus the tension is greater. Let us hope that the public declaration by the Caricom Observer Mission that there would be no election day violence is based on inside knowledge, rather than speculation, and that Guyanese can rely on it. Guyanese would dearly like to know if the Caricom Mission has any inside knowledge about post-election violence. This usually takes place after observers have left.
Election observers operate on the general principle that acts of electoral skullduggery will be called out only if such acts are likely to have affected the results of the elections. But in Guyana, visible acts of electoral malfeasance are not necessary for the manipulation of the election results. Minor acts of rigging are enough to affect the results. If election observers are awaiting major and visible acts of interference with the electoral process, then they will fall into grave error, as in Kenya.
In 2011, the PPP barely won the elections but on a plurality, not a majority. The combined opposition of APNU and AFC obtained around 9,000 votes more. In 2015, the PPP lost the election. The coalition of APNU+AFC won by around 5,000 votes. Thus a few thousand votes can make all the difference. It is not known if the observers have taken this into consideration and if they have the numbers and capacity and are prepared to observe with the detailed scrutiny that would be necessary to detect minor electoral fraud which can have major consequences. Therefore, the ejection of party polling agents from polling stations by intimidation or violence, and the stuffing of the ballot boxes with enough ballots for the favoured party, unseen by the other side, or observers if not present, can occur without being detected and affect the outcome of the elections. Guyanese are familiar with the ejection of polling agents from polling stations.
In this situation, observers may wish to look at some additional factors. One occurs where there are complaints that party polling agents from one party are ejected from polling stations in areas where another party has overwhelming support. Another is where polling stations in areas where one party has overwhelming support, and polling agents of the other party are ejected, have a turnout that is significantly higher than the national average. Where both situations occur together in one or more areas, something would be definitely wrong.
For Guyana’s elections to be free and fair, not only the large parties but the small ones (they prefer to be called ‘new’ parties) must have important issues affecting them addressed. Three parties, the A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) and The New Movement (TNM), joined their lists under section 22 of the Representation of the People Act which provides for a “joinder of lists.” The reading of section 22 suggests that votes are counted and declared separately but are then combined and seats are awarded to the “combination of lists” (the words of section 22), rather than to the individual parties.
There is no law that sets out the procedures such as who would add and announce the total votes allocated to the combination and if the Elections Commission that would allocate seats to the combination of parties. Since there is no law the Elections Commission has to come to an agreement with the parties on the procedures. It has no power to impose. Despite repeated requests, the Elections Commission has not responded up to this late stage. The ‘new,’ and even long existing ‘small,’ parties like the United Republican Party (URP), have a long list of unaddressed complaints and every reason to feel neglected and ignored. They see that the large parties have to merely huff and puff and GECOM falls head over heels to give them attention. Can the ‘new’ and old ‘small’ parties feel satisfied that the elections would be wholly free and fair under these circumstances?