Against the background of the passage in the National Assembly of the Local Authorities (Election Amendment) Bill, not yet assented to by the President, which provides that local government elections be held by August, the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Dr. Steve Surujballi, announced that the Elections Commission is ready to ‘go into election mode’ as soon as the date for local government elections is fixed. This ends speculation about GECOM’s readiness. It also challenges the Government’s position on the holding of local government elections. Minister Rohee’s statement that GECOM is not ready is not tenable. Minister Whittaker’s view that the people are not ready has been an age old excuse for the withholding of democracy and lacks credibility.
APNU has seized the opportunity which opened up by GECOM’s announcement to call on the Government to fix a date for the elections. ‘The clock is ticking,’ said APNU’s Chair, David Granger.
The Government has always expressed an anxiety for early local government elections. Shortly after his assumption of office, President Ramotar announced his intention to hold local government elections in 2012. These had been delayed since 1994 due to the unfortunate circumstances whereby during the PPP/C’s last term of office the Government allowed negotiations to be unnecessarily prolonged with the Opposition PNCR-IG for the legislation which was necessary after the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission. These started during the life of the 2001-2006 Government and continued interminably, for eight years, into the life in the next Government. It ought to have terminated the negotiations after one or two years, and taken the issues for resolution to the National Assembly, which it eventually did after eight years.
The then Opposition PNCR-IG also adopted an intransigent position by demanding that the reforms must be completed before elections are held. There was no reason why elections could not have been held under the old system while negotiations were going on.
These two positions combined to deprive the Guyanese people of having local democracy. Having regard to President Ramotar’s earlier commitment, the PPP surely recognized that this deficit is one of the reasons why it performed so poorly at the last general elections. What in fact happened is that the lack of democracy allowed corruption to spiral, services to decline and bureaucratic inertia to spread. Frustration at the local level increased and this was partially reflected in the 2011 election results.
With this experience it would have been expected that current procrastination by the Government as regards local government elections would have been eschewed. But not so. The only explanation is that the issue of general elections is on the agenda of the PPP leadership.
One may be tempted to believe that the Government is examining is the negative impact of a low turnout at the local government elections. After the traditional high turnout at the 1992 general elections, the local government elections in 1994 saw only a 30+ percent turnout. It is anticipated that if local government elections are now held the turnout would be even lower. Such a result may cause its supporters to lose confidence in its ability to return victory at the general elections. This may well lead the Government to hold its hand on the local government elections as it now appears to want to do.
But the country is going through a particularly potent political battle in relation to the AML/CFT Bill. There are no signs that any compromise solutions are about to be negotiated so that Guyana is likely to be blacklisted shortly. The consequences of this alone may be so grave that elections would be necessary. But the budget is soon to be presented in the National Assembly. This would be the occasion for further disagreements. No one knows what the outcome of the debate on the estimates is going to be. One suspects therefore that the Government wishes to keep its powder dry and not commit to local government elections until it is a position to decide whether or not general elections would be necessary.
It is not known whether this analysis is accurate but in the absence of any definite information it is a reasonable proposition to explain the reluctance of the PPP to commit to local government elections at this moment even though the leadership is aware of its importance and necessity. It is aware that the absence of local government elections is resulting in progress not being adequately made which is likely to harm its political prospects. But it is between a rock and a hard place. It has no choice but to keep its options open at this time.
The fact is that the Government is now under serious pressure to fix a date for the local government elections. Not only the Opposition but the diplomatic community has been exerting pressure on the Government to call the elections. Buffeted this way and that with countervailing pressures, the Government is in a true dilemma. Hopefully it can be resolved soon and local democracy can be restored as soon as possible.