In the course of my political life I have lived though all general and local government elections and one referendum held between 1968 to 2015.
Free and fair elections began from 1992 up to 2015. Donald Ramotar the PPP/C’s Presidential Candidate for the latter elections never conceded defeat.
The worst of all elections in Guyana’s political history was held on July 16, 1973.
I was a polling agent for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) at the Saint Gabriel’s Primary School at Queenstown, Georgetown.
At the close of poll, I was not allowed to accompany the ballot boxes in the vehicle transporting the boxes nor to follow the said vehicle.
The argument used by election officials at that time was that there was no space in the vehicle to accommodate polling/counting agents. Reasons of security were given as to why the vehicle carrying the boxes must not be followed.
Only four parties contested those elections; the PPP, the PNC, The Liberator Party/United Force and the People’s Democratic Party (PDM).
Following their agreement, the opposition parties had informed the Elections Commission that one representative from among the three parties should be allowed to be in the vehicle with the ballot boxes. This was refused. Security personnel blocked any vehicle from following the vehicle transporting the boxes.
Though it was not prohibited by law, counting votes at the polling station was done as a matter of custom and practice. But the dictatorship by administrative diktat prohibited the practice and Queen’s College was identified as the central counting place for votes cast at that election from across the country.
Having been accredited the Counting Agent for the PPP I made my way on foot from the polling station in Queenstown to QC.
After waiting late into the night convoys of trucks and land rovers belonging to the GDF began arriving with ballot boxes.
There is a famous photograph by well-known Guyanese photographer, Winston Oudkerk showing ranks from the GDF carrying ballot boxes on their shoulders into the entrance of the college.
In that photograph, Kester Alves, the then Information Officer attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, can be seen standing in the background witnessing the military operation.
Claude Merriman a former Mayor of Georgetown and PNC MP had imposed himself as the civilian in charge of the vote counting operation at QC.
Those persons identifiable by badges as Elections Commission officials stood meekly by as Merriman directed the GDF ranks where to place the ballot boxes.
Merriman tried to prevent examination of the boxes before the ballots were dumped on tables but he was countermanded by an elections official who made it possible to see that almost all the boxes were tampered with. Party seals were broken, padlocks were either missing or opened and hinges on boxes were broken.
The boxes were tampered with while in the custody of the GDF in transit to Queen’s College.
As the ballots were dumped on the tables, bundles of ballots wrapped with rubber bands came tumbling out some of the boxes. Someone had messed up.
As counting began, discrepancies emerged between the numbers on the declaration forms signed by Presiding Officers inside the boxes and the number of ballot papers in each box.
And ballot papers with an X marked in favour of the cup had scratches or scrawled, ineligible writing on them.
The worst fears of the opposition PPP were confirmed. Vote rigging of the worst kind ever in the history of Guyana had taken place.
During the elections campaign Cheddi Jagan had alerted his supporters at public meetings throughout the country, about the PNC’s intention to perpetuate electoral fraud.
Everyone expected that votes cast at polling stations would be counted there. It was not until later in the day, people got wind of the news that arrangements had been made to have the security forces move ballot boxes to Queen’s College.
By that time crowds had gathered outside polling stations awaiting the vote count and announcement of the results cast.
Suspicion was rife among PPP supporters that the ballot boxes would be tampered with while being transported from polling stations to Georgetown.
The polling station at No. 63 village on the Corentyne became a flash point due to the intimidatory actions of the security forces towards the people gathered some distance from the school housing the polling station.
According to the “Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of Bholanauth Parmanand, Jagan Ramessar and Vernon Campbell:”
“The PPP had fears that the elections was not going to be properly conducted. They also had fears that if the ballot boxes were removed from the polling stations, they were going to be tampered with unless their agents were allowed to accompany the ballot boxes.”
Based on the occurrences in Georgetown it was clear that there would be no counting of votes at polling stations, nor would polling/counting agents be allowed to accompany ballot boxes.
What was unknown to the PPP was that the call to have the votes counted at polling stations and/or to accompany the boxes would be used as a threat to public security and thus the call on the military to assist the police to “protect the ballot boxes.”
The “protection” of ballot boxes was interpreted as instructions to the GDF and GPF to:
“See and ensure the safe movement of the ballot boxes from where they would be uplifted and that they were to take all necessary and reasonable actions to ensure the safe movement of the boxes.”
The “safe movement of ballot boxes” was viewed by the villagers gathered outside the polling station at Number 63 village as an effort to tamper with the votes cast.
The unarmed police at the polling station lacked experience in crowd control and, to make matters worse the army, with no training whatsoever on how to deal with expressions of civilian anger was called in to take control.
Live rounds were fired by a lieutenant belonging to the GDF. Two young men were shot, one died on the spot, the other, while still alive, was placed in a vehicle belonging to the army but was taken to the hospital hours after the army had completed their mission. He was pronounced dead on arrival.
That was forty seven years ago.
In the current elections campaign, we hear speakers at APNU+AFC public meetings exhorting supporters to; “Guard against any interference during counting of the ballots at polling stations;” To, “Be ready for the nightshift;” To, “Stay around polling stations to see nothing happens to those boxes;” And that, “Persons with pink slips must be allowed to vote or else there will be trouble.”
From these extremist calls by the APNU+AFC elite we can discern an emerging pattern. They are driven by a hunger to remain in office and delusions of grandeur.
The elite’s provocative call to its supporters is aimed at eliciting conformity to do as they are told based on a sense of duty.
But more importantly, the elite’s call is based on a paranoid distrust of others who they subliminally suggest are out to commit sinister deeds at polling stations on elections day.
Extremist talk by leaders of the APNU+AFC pose a serious threat to free and fair elections in particular and democracy in general.
Clement J. Rohee