SATURDAY marked four years since Guyanese cast their ballots in the General and Regional Elections (GREs), which resulted in a shift in the country’s political dynamics. After 23 years in the Executive, the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) lost the confidence of the majority and was placed in the opposition.
Preceding the 2015 GREs were the results of 2011, where the PPP lost majority control of the National Assembly, but won the majority to form the Executive. 2011 was the first time in post-independent Guyana that a sitting Executive did not have majority control in the National Assembly. This signalled the beginning of obvious change in the determination of voting patterns and results.
Citizens became more alert and interested in the management of the country’s affairs and conduct of their elected representatives in the discharge of duties on their behalf. This level of awareness and consciousness was in part influenced by global dynamics, a few local militant voices and increasing presence and access to media, formal and social.
Guyanese not only had the opportunity to share their experiences and engage in feedback unhindered by geographic constraints, but also benefitted from interaction with overseas counterparts and events happening in other countries. This atmosphere educated and served as motivation, more particularly for the young and techno savvy to get involved in politics.
The young, which makes up more than half of the population and once considered a relative apathetic voting bloc, rose from this state and decided they were going to ‘Vote like a Boss.’ The vote for them in 2015 represented an important tool to personally effect change in their lives through the political process. To the incumbent’s credit — A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance For Change (AFC) — during their period in opposition and having held the majority in the legislature, succeeded in shining light on management of the nation’s business under the presidency of Messrs Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar. Exposés of mismanagement of the nation’s resources and intolerance, demonstrated to those who questioned same contributed to the people registering their dissatisfaction via their votes.
The APNU+AFC, running as a single force against the PPP/C and the platform on which they campaigned, instilled confidence among sections of the society that a change, consistent with their desire, is possible and worthy of working to achieve. This platform addressed what the people considered important issues, such as unity; accountable government; respect for citizens’ views, rights and the rule of law and the promise of a ‘Good Life.’ The coalition also came to power at a time when freedom of speech, including dissent and protest, and respect for the role of independent media, were assaulted. Those who challenged or reported what was happening were targeted. For instance, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and its attendant arms suffered the withdrawal of its subventions, Stabroek News and Kaieteur News were deprived of state advertisements and government officials used their influence to call on non-state actors to do likewise. Libel suits and incarcerations were part of the programme to silence voices.
Agreements were made and never implemented. Some such are the 1999 Armstrong Tribunal Award; the 2001 Desmond Hoyte/Bharrat Jagdeo Agreement; the 8th March, 2000 Agreement with the GTUC and the 21st August, 2012 Agreement with Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Upper Berbice). Though the Guyana Constitution (Article 13) mandates the nation’s political objective be one of “inclusionary democracy,” such was observed in the breach, evident in complaints by the political opposition, trade unions, and other stakeholders.
Rights and the rule of law were assailed. The trade union movement was at its worst ever, having suffered a politically engineered split in 1999, collective bargaining and the right to freedom of association were challenged. The formal economy was compromised by corruption, overwhelming presence of an underground economy, and the cosy relationship between government and underworld operators. International pressure was brought to bear on the government to put systems in place to rid the economy of corruption and illegal money.
Four years after there will obviously be reflections and deliberations as to whether 11th May, 2015 turned out or is morphing into what the people voted for. This is the nature of free speech in a democracy. That being said, there has been numerous promises kept by the government and achievements, which they listed in a statement appearing in the media on Saturday. Chief among these are the holding of local government elections after over two decades under the PPP; the Anti-Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism Bill passed; reduction of the Berbice Bridge toll and restoration of sanitary conditions in Georgetown and its environs.
Besides, the government has emphasised that over these past four years, the policies and programmes of the coalition have favourably impacted every aspect of life in Guyana, from the coastland to the hinterland, and in the riverine and Indigenous communities. “No government before has done more within such a short span of time.” The APNU+AFC coalition government said too, that it has given senior citizens and working people a reassuring glimpse of the good life. “It has increased old-age pension and social assistance, raised the national minimum wage and improved salaries, including those for sweeper/cleaners, nurses and teachers.” From 2011, Guyanese are seeing themselves personally invested in the political processes. President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, in recognition and appreciation of this, campaigned on their commitment to govern through inclusionary democracy. On assuming office, the people were told by the president to hold his administration accountable; thus far we have seen the manifestation of this sacred challenge and equally, the government has responded to the needs of the people. As we have said before in this column, nation- building is hard work and relies on constant vigilance, sacrifice, self-critique and reverent commitment to the ideals that would promote, ensure and maintain a unified polity. It is work in constant progress and the coalition has set about the path to do so.