THE evidence suggests that when politics is fraught with a fear of incarceration, it is uniquely and dangerously different; it becomes an act of survival. Statesmanship, decorum and respect for rules and norms go out the door.

Nothing sits well with the mindset of a politician if he [is] haunted by the thought of facing jail time if he does not win an election. His only resort is to the scorched earth strategy to burn everything in his path that resembles a possible defeat.

This involves objecting to everything under the sun, challenging everything at every turn and endless activism fraught with paranoia. The Presidency or prison scenario makes a candidate and special interest completely different animals in the game of electoral politics. Perhaps, this phenomenon is on full display in Guyana which is on the precipice of the mother of all elections, hence, the need for a cursory examination of the aforementioned.

Under the reign of autocratic and totalitarian regimes, law and politics become inextricably intertwined. The law is used as a tool to execute political vendettas. Courts and judges are politically appointed and receive directions from a ‘strong man’, so verdicts are decided at the Presidential Palace. A stark example of this lies in the documented case of Joseph Vissarionovich aka ‘Stalin’ during his rule over the Soviet Union from April 3rd, 1922 to October 16th, 1952. In Simon Sebag Montefiore’s ‘The Court of the Red Tsar’, he describes how Joseph Stalin presents the indomitable case of the power of the state apparatus in law and politics: ‘You think Kamenev may not confess? Stalin asked Mironov. ‘I don’t know’ replied Mironov. Stalin asked: Do you know how much our state weighs with all the factories, machines, the army with all the armaments and the navy? Nobody can know that, Joseph Vissarionovich; it is the realm of astronomical figures’ Mironov replied.
Stalin said: well, and can one man withstand the pressure of that astronomical weight?” This demonstrates the case of the law being used as a mechanism of settling political scores in the context of a totalitarian regime. In the realm of a democratic setting with an independent judiciary, the candidate who has a documented inculpatory evidence of malfeasance in office is an extremely worried man on the campaign trail. While the state might not have the power over the judiciary to direct the judicial process, once he is charged, he becomes mortified by the idea of facing an independent magistrate. Winning the Presidency becomes an existential battle and what ensues is behavior that is guided by possible jail or the Presidency.

The psychology of a candidate who must win the presidency or face jail,
Vybz Kartel melodiously remarked, ‘prison life, neva eva nice’; his caution has been heard by an entire generation. An electoral candidate facing fraud charges must retire to bed every night reflecting on the possibility of being behind bars and for him, capturing the Presidency becomes a sine qua non. He needs control of the state apparatus to use his power to negate any judicial attempt to hold him accountable. This produces a mindset that says I must win or there shall be no country. This results in actions such as destroying the credibility of anyone or any institution that does not support his agenda, embracing the most odious ideas if they can bring victory, a plethora of endless promises to the people and, in the event that defeat appears on the horizon, he will let slip the dogs of war.

When elections involve candidates who are facing the courts, a country must brace for vicious elections. Guyana currently faces this scenario and there is no doubt, the coming months will demonstrate the viciousness of the politics of the Presidency or jail.