2020 has been a watershed moment for the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. On March 2, a high-stakes snap general election forced the former British colony into a political deadlock, with both the incumbent coalition of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance for Change (AFC), and the socialist opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) declaring victory.
The election debate had been largely centered on the recent discovery of reserves of 8 billion barrels’ worth of crude oil off Guyana’s coast, and concern for who would have control of this lucrative new industry, which was projected as potentially generating up to $300m (£230m) in revenue this year. However, despite an overwhelming lead having opened up for the PPP, vote counting was suddenly halted the day after the election, and the ruling APNU+AFC coalition were declared the outright winners.
The PPP were naturally outraged and lodged a strong appeal – backed by the international observer missions and several governments – resulting in a recount of the national vote by the Guyana Electoral Commission (GECOM) on June 3. Though the incumbent President David Granger initially agreed he and the APNU+AFC coalition would abide by the results of the recount, they soon reneged on their promise after it was found that the PPP had won by a lead of some 15,500 votes, arguing that these results could not be credible due to the “high incidence of fraud” – despite the assertions to the contrary by the international observer missions.
It is worth noting in this context that the People’s National Congress (PNC), a subsidiary of the APNU, have historically been accused of orchestrating no less than three fraudulent elections between 1968 and 1980. Amidst this political stalemate, Guyana’s democratic future now hangs in the balance between a historically socialist, diverse and anti-colonial party on the one hand, and a police state controlled by the incumbent coalition on the other – one that is no stranger to using corrupt and fraudulent means in order to preserve their power…
Guyana: Democracy and peace under threat by Morris Persaud
Elections were held in Guyana on 2 March 2020 – 3 months and waiting for results (this is a shameful world record!)
The election was held 14 months after the Granger-led APNU+AFC Coalition Government was defeated by a Vote of No Confidence (VNC) on December 21, 2018. The Government used the courts to challenge the VNC which finally ended in the Caribbean Court of Justice (Guyana’s apex court) on June 18, 2019. The CCJ upheld the Guyana constitution and in its orders of July 12, 2019, instructed that elections must be held within 3 months of the ruling, and further that in the interim, it was not “ business as usual” as the government was operating with “restricted legal authority”.
Rather than abiding by the court, the date of elections was called for March 2, 2020. Leading up to elections there were many attempts by the government to disenfranchise thousands of voters including approaching the court to rule that people could not be on the voters list based on residency. The court threw out the request as there was no such constitutional provision.
The General and Regional Elections were held on March 2, 2020 and in the opinion of the international observers, local observers, President Granger and the nine opposition parties, that the elections were conducted in accordance with the rules and were peaceful.
On the night of March 2, 2020, the votes were counted at each of the 2339 polling stations across the country. Nine (9) of the 10 Districts completed the tabulation of the Statements of Poll (SOPs) by the night of March 4th. The Parliamentary Opposition, the People’ Progressive Party Civic, had gained a 52,000 lead over the Granger-led APNU+AFC Coalition. The international observers were of the view that these were done fairly and transparently.
The tabulation of Electoral District # 4 also commenced. However, on March 5th , the Returning Officer, started tabulating from a spread sheet instead of the Statements of Poll and his numbers did not match those on the SOPs. The counting agents for the opposition parties, the local observers protested in the presence of the international observers. The Returning Officer declared the results for Electoral District # 4. Within a matter of hours, the Chief Elections Officer rushed to present the results of all 10 districts to the Guyana Election Commission declaring incumbent David Granger and the APNU+AFC Coalition the winner.
INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER CONCERNS
International observers, raised concerns and sought answers from GECOM and were threatened by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to have their accreditation status withdrawn.
A private citizen on March 5th won an injunction to stop the discredited declaration form being made and the case was heard expeditiously. The Chief Justice ruled that the verification and tabulation of District # 4 on March 5th was unlawful and that GECOM and the Returning Officer must carry out the tabulation in keeping with the law using the SOPs.
On March 13th the tabulation of the said District recommenced and concluded with the same Returning Officer. The Chief Elections Officer on the following day submitted the results of the 10 Electoral Districts with the same results as March 5th, 2020.
The International Observers and local observers condemned the results and called for a credible and transparent result in order to install a legitimate government. By March 16th,, all the international observers had withdrawn due to Covid-19.
On March 16th ,due to the intervention of the Chairperson of the CARICOM, the President and the Leader of the Opposition signed an Aide memoire for a Recount of the all the Electoral Districts in the presence of a High-Level CARICOM Team starting March 17. This was aborted as a candidate of the APNU+AFC won an injunction to stop the recount proceeding on March 17th. The Court of Appeal ruled that the recount was not unconstitutional. The CARICOM High Level Team returned for the second time on April 25, 2020. The Carter Centre also sought permission to enter Guyana and were denied on three occasions by the government on the grounds of Covid-19 and foreign interference.
The Recount commenced on May 6th with a timeline of 25 days, however, this has been extended to June 13, 2020. Seven of the 10 Electoral Districts have been completed so far and show the PPPC in the lead.
During the recount, the APNUAFC is objecting to thousands of voters, mainly PPPC, as having migrated or being dead and deeming the elections not credible. These allegations are being shown to be baseless. But this is an indication that the APNU+AFC will not accept the results of the recount. The threat is real; Guyana’s democracy is under threat.
Guyanese have been encouraged by the statements coming from the US Secretary of State, the OAS, the Chairman of CARICOM, Secretary General of Commonwealth, in-country diplomats from the UK, USA, Canada, the EU, including 2 statements from UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Rabb, US Senators and Congressmen in defence of democracy and rule of law.
‘The Elders Group’ recently called for “The will of the people must be respected through the swearing in of a legitimate Government based on the recount’s results.”
The Guyanese people have so far remained calm despite provocation. In the UK the Guyanese diaspora welcomes the position of the UK government and look forward to our friends in Liberation seeking cross-party support in defence of Guyana’s democracy.
For more information contact Morris Persaud: firstname.lastname@example.org