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.
On Friday evening, three parties, A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) and The New Movement (TNM) (in alphabetical order) signed a letter to the Chief Election Officer, Mr. Keith Lowenfield, informing him that pursuant to section 22 of the Representation of the People Act, they have formed a combination of lists. The section provides: “Subject to subsection (2), two or more lists of candidates shall be joined for the distribution of seats (but not for the purpose of voting) if the representative and deputy representative of each list to be so joined gives notice accordingly in writing not later than the 25th day before election day; and lists so joined are hereinafter referred to collectively as a combination of lists.” This is the first time in Guyana’s history that this section has been invoked and utilized.
As far as is understood, the elections will proceed in the normal way. The three parties will present their individual programmes to the electorate and seek their support. Upon the closure of the polls, the votes will be counted separately and each party will know if it wins or does not win one or more constituency seats s well as the full extent of the votes that it receives. Upon the completion of counting, the votes of the combination of lists, that is, the three parties, would be added together and seats apportioned to the three parties as a combination in accordance with the combined votes that they obtain. It has to be clarified how the seats, if any, gained at the regional constituency elections will be treated. The parties will then distribute the seats in accordance with the votes that each obtains. Whether or not a party obtains enough votes to qualify for one or more seats, it is likely to have a number of left over votes. The combination of those left over votes can potentially give the combination of lists one or two additional seats. Thus, establishing the combination under section 22, enables the parties to utilize the votes left over by taking them into consideration in the distribution of seats. Without the combination of lists, the left over votes would be discarded.
The agreement between the three parties to form a combination of lists is of tremendous importance for several reasons. Firstly, parliamentary majorities in 2011 and 2015 have been of one seat. A single seat in the National Assembly can, therefore, make all the difference between Guyana moving forward with constitutional reform to establish a shared governance system of government or remaining in the political backwater of ethnic competition. Secondly, this is the first time that a limited engagement, such as a combination of lists, has been agreed to in conditions where a compelling sentiment exists among the electorate to keep both parties below an absolute majority in order to limit their capacity to dominate and to compel progressive constitutional reform. Thirdly, for the first time in the era of free and fair elections since 1992, egos did not get in the way of political unity in Guyana, limited though it is. Fourthly, without allowing enthusiasm to take hold of reality, this modest effort at unity can mature into joint campaign efforts which will give an important impetus to the mobilization of those who seek a way out of the politics of ethnic domination.
In 2011, when the PPP led a minority government and the Opposition parties, the APNU and the AFC, then in separate entities, together had the majority, the Opposition had no plan, except to see the back of the PPP and take its place. It did so as a coalition and there have been no material changes. At the current time, the new parties, or some of them, actively seek to have a minority government, which can then be persuaded to take steps to bring about constitutional change in the structure of government. The agreement on the combination of lists brings that reality closer.