Immediately following a declaration there should be a move for a referendum on national unity

Immediately following a declaration there should be a move for a referendum on national unity

Dear Editor,

The recent ruling of the Chief Justice in Misenga Jones versus the Guyana Elections Commission et al, despite the matter now being taken up at the Appeals Court, signals that legal maneuvering may finally be close to the end.

As the legal processes start to wind down, GECOM will no longer be constrained by the endless and dizzying round of motions and appeals from deciding on the outcome of  the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, and from making a declaration based upon the ruling of the courts.

But what then? We are deluding ourselves and misleading people if we believe that the solution to our problem lies in running back and forth to the courts to find out who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong,’ who has rigged or who has rigged more. This is a political matter that will never be settled by legal debates. Meanwhile lines are being drawn in the sand and tensions have been heightened rather than resolved. Racial divisions are being actively stoked on social media, explicitly and through subtle stereotyping, and in ways that have made it impossible to listen to, hear and address the fears on all sides. Histories are selectively drawn upon so that only one side has ever been the aggressor or wrongdoer, only one side is ever the martyr and victim. Vicious personal attacks – often sexist, racist and homophobic – against those with whom one disagrees or thinks one disagrees, are now the order of the day. And depending on what ‘side’ one is on, yesterday’s demon is today’s heroine, and vice versa. Strange bedfellows are self-righteously being made, with no regard for principles and with scant regard for truth. This is where we are today.

No amount of res judicatas will compensate for the absence of fundamental electoral and constitutional reform in Guyana, and without which we will once again kick the bucket of racial distrust down the road until the next election. These reforms have been consistently resisted by both major parties over decades; it is telling that the one thing upon which they seem to agree is that whoever gets into power will ensure the status quo on this question remains undisturbed.

This most recent political crisis has arrived in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put lives and livelihoods at risk. It has arrived at a time when Guyana has come to international attention as a result of oil discovery and production and our geostrategic location on Venezuela’s northeastern shoulder. In the face of new forms of corporate extractivism and exploitation of our resources, history has taught us that our internal divisions and our continuing inability to resolve them, can and will be effectively used against us.

The declaration of a result and the swearing in of a new government is thus merely the start and not the end of the work to be done to heal this country and move forward on a genuine basis of inclusion and meaningful participation. The events of the last four months have underlined that regardless of a declaration, there is no winner under the existing system if by winner we mean the Guyanese people, across race, class, coast and hinterland, gender, party and all differences. Our experience across all previous administrations has also shown us this. There is no winner under the existing system when the consequence of stoking or not acknowledging and addressing racial fears continues to be that the majority of Guyanese continue to be shut out of access to economic and political power, whoever is in office. There is no winner under the existing system except for those who benefit from the ‘friends and family’ approach to sharing out the spoils of high positions. There is no winner under the existing system if we end up here again in five years, where a ballot is cast on the basis of fear of the other or for the less bad alternative.

We cannot continue with a political system that diminishes the influence of the Guyanese people, concentrates power in the hands of a few, enables corruption and greed, and calls this democracy. This must end. While the division among ordinary people now seems like an unbridgeable chasm, we believe it can only be repaired by Guyanese acting together, across and beyond partisan politics to ensure that no single party can continue to hijack the hopes and aspirations of Guyanese people. Guyana is bigger than our narrow ideals, egos, and parties. She is bigger than one or two racial/ethnic minorities/majorities. She is certainly bigger than the people on the coast. Some have spoken consistently over the years, and certainly before this election, about the need for national unity as the only route to reconciliation and renewal (on March 9, 2020, political elders Moses Bhagwan and Eusi Kwayana issued such a statement, almost half a century after their first joint appeal for national unity and reconciliation). We repeat that call here. Immediately following a declaration, let us find common ground across our differences to demand a referendum on national unity, so that the Guyanese people ourselves can finally decide this question and offer the clearest mandate of all. This matter should not be left in the hands of political leaders, who have repeatedly failed to go forward on this issue that affects our very survival as a nation and as a people. Time and again these ‘leaders’ have been our undoing. It is time to say enough.

Yours faithfully,

Karen de Souza

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