As the country prepares for General and Regional Elections on March 2, the issue uppermost in the minds of Guyanese is whether or not the elections will be free and fair and free from fear. Such concerns are not exaggerated. This was particularly evident during the pre-1992 period when all elections from 1968 to 1985 were blatantly rigged in favour of the then ruling PNC, aided and abetted by a then subservient Elections Commission.
Much water, as it were, has passed under the bridge since then, thanks to the intervention of the Carter Center and western countries, most notably the United States, Canada and Britain among others. Those interventions along with mounting pressure from Civil Society resulted in democratic elections on October 5, 1992 which was decisively won by the PPP/C.
Since 1992, elections were generally free and fair except for some sporadic episodes of post-elections disturbances orchestrated by the PNC following successive defeats in the 1997 and 2001. The PPP/C was forced in 2001, in the interest of peace and stability to give up two years of its elected five- year term under a Caricom brokered agreement despite the fact that the elections were declared free and fair by local and overseas observers.
Post-elections tension in Guyana resulted to a large extent from unrealistic expectations in which supporters of the PNC were falsely led to believe that the PPP/C obtained power through undemocratic means. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but the damage inflicted on our democracy and our democratic credentials were long-lasting and debilitating.
I urge political parties in particular the ruling APNU+AFC Coalition to exercise caution in terms of tempering voting outcomes and expectations with objective political realities. Calls for ‘vigilance’ by PNC Chairperson Volda Lawrence and encouraging party members and supporters to remain at the close of polling are unhelpful in terms of a peaceful and incident-free poll and should be retracted. Moreover, it is in conflict with the GECOM Advisory urging voters to leave the polling places peacefully after having cast his or her ballot.
All political parties should be asked to sign on to a Protocol in which they ask their respective party supporters to desist from milling around polling stations at the close of poll. The only persons to have access to the Polling Stations after the close of poll must be the Statutory GECOM Officials and Accredited Party Scrutineers. All others should be debarred by security personnel from remaining in the immediate vicinity of the polling stations.
I repeat. Elections must not only be free and fair but it must also be free from fear. Any attempt to disrupt this fundamental democratic principle should not only be eschewed but sanctioned.