In my recent studies of international relations, a country’s foreign affairs have become ‘domestically electoralized’ – meaning a country’s foreign or diplomatic or economic relations largely flow from the outcome of its election. If it is not free, the implications are far-reaching, affecting every issue pertaining to the future of the nation, including domestic affairs. The Guyana Elections Commission (the GECOM Chair really) must therefore take note that the future of Guyana is in its (her) hands – if the outcome does not reflect the will of the voters, the Chair will be responsible for what happens to Guyana, and of course the sanctions (against her and many more) that would come from the US as warned by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.
What has been happening to the election in Guyana under GECOM’s watch, and the international attention given to it, and the united global response against electoral fraud, has damaged perceptions about Guyana. It has also damaged the reputation of GECOM and that of the chair in particular.
The world is looking into Guyana as never before because of oil and economic potential. As reported in foreign media and witnessed by observers, never in a country’s history was there such a bold attempt, in public view, to rig an election. In addition, Western nations feel vital interests are at stake in Guyana, and cannot allow a rigged election. It is accepted in a globalized context, what happens in Guyana affects the world. Reversing the negative image of Guyana is now in the hands of the chair of the Commission. Only she can alter the terrible image of the country and Guyanese are appealing to her to do the honourable thing.
Unlike during the Cold War when the Western nations did not care about electoral fraud in their backyard as long as their vital interests were not threatened, now elections are internationalized through foreign observers and morality; the Western world can no longer watch in silence when elections are rigged. Democratic nations must condemn such blatant fraud. In addition, fraudulent elections pose a threat to the basic interests of Western nations by triggering domestic crises that lead to mass migration into the developed nations, burdening their economies, as was experienced with several Latin countries. The West does not want to deal with another economic or refugee crisis that would flow from a government emerging from electoral fraud.
For Guyana, fraud inevitably would affect foreign relations and trade including foreign direct investment, border tensions and disputes, treaty obligations, foreign aid, trade deals, security commitments, national security and defence, military and technical training, loans and the country’s overall development.
The fraud is bound to impact on, for example, Guyana’s position at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the border dispute with Venezuela. In addition, Venezuela or Suriname or Brazil will not want to ratify or recognize any border treaty or ICJ ruling territorial issues when the outcome of an election in its neighbour is under dispute. Also, other countries will not wish to engage or assist a government that comes to power through electoral fraud.
International institutions will continue to hold off on loans. For example, India’s financial assistance to Guyana is perhaps the largest in the world – loans, infrastructure, health, scholarship, technical assistance, and other forms of aid. There would be an appeal to India to stall her soft loan for road development. International pressure may force China to follow suit and the US will instruct the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan to freeze the oil money currently being held in the Natural Resource Fund account there. The effects on the economy would be devastating, similar to what happened in Zimbabwe; a prime example of what happens to a resource rich country that engaged in fraud. Venezuela is currently experiencing a tough response to fraud.
No amount of oil resources or funds arising out of oil or growth will change Guyana’s image of a country where the Elections Commission attempted to rig an election. And the negative image and its global effects are all attributed to the March 2 post election recount and the failure of the Chair make a declaration of the results.
Regrettably, GECOM (really the Chair and government Commissioners) since March 3 have come across as the facilitators of fraud. They are perceived as protecting the political interests of one side over the correct declaration of results of what was a credible election. And this perception has come about because of countless efforts by so many global actors to get GECOM to do the right thing on the election. Even the overwhelming number of Guyanese I’ve engaged at home and the Diaspora are yearning to move away from electoral fraud and have so appealed to the Chair to respect the recount. They don’t want to return to fraud pre-1992. Guyanese remember too well how electoral riggings led to the 28 years of misrule that resulted into political and economic disorder, hampering national development, and that triggered widespread starvation and mass migration so much so that more Guyanese make their home abroad than at home. Does GECOM or the Chair want the nation to return to that era?
The Chair has a unique opportunity to rehabilitate the image of GECOM and her own. The whole world is telling her to make a declaration that reflects the will of the electorate and in accord with her own national recount order; no voter must be disenfranchised. She must end the defiance to the international community in making a declaration. If the Chair does not act decisively in making a declaration of the elections based on the CARICOM recount, it would be a squandered opportunity to place Guyana on the right path, which is a bad omen for Guyana’s future. And Pompeo may well include her name in a list sanctions. She must not go in a direction in which she would be subject of ridicule and condemnation.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram