I applaud the participation of the youths in the struggle against fraud. One positive development from the ongoing election and humanitarian crisis is the emergence of a new, unfolding democratic movement, in which young people, for the first time in decades, have been speaking out publicly against electoral fraud.
This is a rare occurrence for Guyana, and has not happened since the 1980s, young people from around the world spoke out against electoral abuses and dictatorships.
As a reader of the global press and a worldwide traveller and reporter, I had never seen so many opinions expressed in the media against a government anywhere in the world, as people stand up to a dictator or against electoral fraud. A handful of us, I then being merely a teenager, were a lone force during the period 1960s to 1992, speaking out against fraud. But now Guyanese, the youths in particular, don’t want a derailment of the democratic process that once characterised their homeland.
Guyanese spoke out and demonstrated against the 1968 rigging at a time when it was permitted because the forces required for violent repression were not institutionalised as yet. By the time of the 1973 rigging, the mechanism was fully in place to clamp down on all kinds of dissent, including protests against electoral fraud and banning of basic goods. People were afraid of engaging in any dissent against the dictator. Even young people were fearful of speaking out against National Service because of treats to hold back their diplomas.
By 1978, people became immune to electoral fraud; there was no need to oppose it. They expected the elections to be rigged, and knew the outcome even before the vote. The dictatorship’s supporters didn’t even bother to turn up at polling stations because they knew their party would vote for them. Winning was never an issue for the dictator, as the same strategies were employed by age old dictators.
Burnham famously said who voted didn’t matter as much as those who counted the vote. The latter was most important, as we learn from the Mingo fraud, when he declared Granger as winner although the actual ballots showed Irfaan Ali had won.
Burnham perfected the art of rigging at a time when he also had the tacit support of Washington and London, because rigging kept out the hard-core Jaganite communists who would have won democratic elections and create headaches for the West.
During the period of the dictatorship, people spoke in hushed tones, and were conscious with whom they discussed politics. No one dared criticize the dictator openly, for fear of being branded an enemy of the state. There were spies everywhere; reporting on a neighbour or colleague earned one gratitude from the all-powerful leader or the ruling party for a prized job or promotion, or some kind of a lucrative handout. People were fearful of expressing their sentiments against the regime, not only because of the threat of losing privileges, but body limbs and lives also; as we found out what happened to Rodney, Ohene Koama, Edward Dublin and Father Darke, among others. Even with the restoration of democracy in 1992 and the replacement of the dictatorship with a democratic government, people were still fearful of criticising powerful persons.
But the all-pervading fear of a powerful ruler seems to have changed since March 3. People have come out of the closet against electoral fraud. And they were willing to come out on the streets to defend their votes. They demanded that the ballots be accurately counted, even with the Police using violence against them, as happened on March 6, when Police opened fire against protesters who spontaneously came out on the road.
Genuine supporters of democracy have since come together to voice their opinion against the fraud perpetrated by Mingo and Lowenfield on behalf of the coalition. People recognise the significance and importance of the vote. All over the world, people want democracy and are standing up for it. They are no longer afraid of bullets. “People power, no dictator” has gained momentum as countries move towards democratic governance. Unlike during the dictatorship, when support against fraud was nowhere to be found among regional or international organisations, this time Guyanese have the support of the international community.
The call for the Granger regime to step down has been intense, not only from the people, but also from foreign leaders and international (regional) organisations. The will of the people in this case seems set to succeed, as the entire world is against the regime, and sanctions have kicked in.
As many Guyanese have opined, President Granger should do the last honourable act of his administration: ‘step aside’. His coalition regime is holding back the country’s development, and preventing it from moving on.
This once-prosperous nation, whose economy collapsed in the 1970s because of electoral fraud and bad governance, is heading towards a repeat of imminent economic ruin. The economy has shrunk to nearly half its size since the no confidence vote of December 2018.
The country has the potential to rise again because of incoming oil revenues and the resourcefulness and productive capacity of its people. But it can only be resuscitated if people are free and if it is a democracy. Otherwise, the country would return to the past, when frustrated young people, desperate for work, scavenged garbage heaps to earn a living, or peddled goods as street vendors, or left the country altogether.
Almost the entire country is arrayed against the regime. Even its supporters have turned against it for misleading them about the fraud. The people, the young in particular, are determined that never again should their nation be held to ransom by an unelected regime, as happened between 1965 and 1992. And that is why so many are writing in social media and elsewhere against the fraud.