…vowing to eschew racism, violence during elections campaign
By Lisa Hamilton
ON Thursday, political parties contesting the upcoming General and Regional Elections signed on to a Code of Conduct crafted by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), holding them to reject violence, harassment, intimidation, racism, discrimination, threats and the destruction or defacing of property during the election season.
The parties singed the code at the Georgetown Club in the presence of the full commission, former members of parliament, members of the diplomatic corps and international
observers. In his remarks to the audience, ERC Chair, Dr. John Smith, stated that the promotion of harmony takes a collective effort and the commission is therefore pleased that the Code found consensus amongst the parties.
He also noted that it is the first time since its establishment that the commission has endeavoured to have a code of conduct for an election. “The promotion of harmony takes a collective effort including all those who hold and those who aspire to hold public offices. There is tremendous influence within that grouping; influence that can become a potently positive force to aid in the realisation of the desirous change in the manner of thinking and the conduct of public discourse,” Dr. Smith stated.
“The code of conduct therefore becomes an important step in that journey; a journey that must never be allowed to cease. Once again, on behalf of the commission, I commend the political leaders involved.” However, Dr. Smith said that internal reports compiled from monitoring public meetings and the traditional and nontraditional media remain a major cause for concern of the commission.
He said that as the country traverse this sensitive period, there is need for a multipronged approach to lessen the tensions which have historically risen around the period. He encouraged: “With behavior and utterances not helpful to the efforts of promoting harmony, we urge all to work towards eliminating such public displays through a more responsible approach in an effort to ensure that the remaining period of the campaign is free of ethnic division, discrimination, hate speech, incitement and provocation. This must be extended throughout Elections Day and beyond.”
The ERC Chair thanked the sub-committee which led the process, noting that it was an elaborate one which took some time. He also thanked the various pollical parties which participated in the process. The preamble of the code of conduct speaks to freedom of expression, freedom to assemble and freedom to associate and to demonstrate.
It has been agreed that failure to abide by any provision of the code will render the parties liable for breach of agreement and “necessary actions and sanctions may be implemented”.
The parties which signed the code of conduct were: A New and United Guyana (ANUG), signed by its Presidential Candidate, Ralph Ramkarran; A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), signed by Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon and AFC Leader and Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman; Change Guyana (CG), signed by Prime Ministerial Candidate of the party, Mishka Puran; Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), signed by Davon Van Veen; Organisation for the Victory of the People (OVP), signed by its Presidential Candidate, Gerald Perreira; People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), signed by Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha; The Citizenship Initiative (TCI), signed by its Presidential Candidate, Rondha-Ann Lam; People’s Republic Party (PRP), signed by representative Phyllis Jordon; Federal United Party (Fed-UP), signed by a representative; The New Movement, signed by representatives Carlisa Ifill and Latchman Dindayal; and the United Republican Party (URP), signed by representatives of the party.
In remarks on behalf of the coalition government, Harmon reminded that the code of conduct was birthed out of political discourse with all involved parties. He committed the APNU/AFC/s adherence to the code, noting that candidates of the coalition had additionally and previously been given a guide of public speaking which coincides in many ways with the ERC’s code of conduct.
“This code of conduct was a process which started some time ago and has now taken us to this point where we commit our parties to behave in certain way, during the elections campaign, on Elections Day itself and immediately after. We want to say from the APNU+AFC that we commit ourselves to the code and the statements made in the code,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mustapha congratulated the ERC for putting together the code and assured that the PPP/C is committed to heeding the guidelines within. “Our participation here this morning reiterates our commitment for elections to be held free and fair and in an environment where there is peace, tolerance and no intimidation nor violence,” he said.
He also called on all organisations in the country to support the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in the holding of free, fair and credible elections.
On behalf of the PRP, Phyllis Jordon stated that she was particularly interested in the part of the code which speaks to freedom of expression, as she believes that small parties contesting the elections are at a disadvantage. She asked the ERC and international observer missions to look into the absence of representation of small parties at the elections commission and their limited access to the media. “We are being discriminated against as small parties and the big parties and their members have put us in a position where they have robbed us our freedom of expression and I would like to ask all concerned to look into this matter with immediate effect,” she said.
As the head of ANUG, Ramkarran commended the ERC for bringing the parties together for the signing of the code and suggested that the document be adopted by GECOM to give it official recognition. He stated: “I hope that the major political parties in Guyana observe the terms of the condition. While ANUG is punching beyond its weight, we do not yet but will soon have the clout in which we can influence some of the issues raised in the code of conduct.”
Representing TCI, Lam said that her party has been campaigning in keeping with the ERC’s code of conduct even before it was signed by the party and is proud of such. On behalf of the OVP, Perreira said that at the last elections, certain political parties were misleading the electorate on how they should vote and urged the ERC to pass on such concerns to the commission.
Marcia Lewis, in representing of the URP, thanked the ERC for preparing the code of conduct and congratulated the parties for signing on. She said that the URP has its own code of conduct and one of the guidelines states that should any representative of the party show any form of discrimination, they can be removed from the party.
VanVeen told the audience that LJP had no hesitation in signing on to the code, as it is a party for all Guyanese with the core motive of equality and equal rights. He said that the party hopes to change the current culture of discrimination in Guyana and looks forward to maintaining cordial relations with all parties involved.
Dr. Turhane Doerga of TNM said that his party was very pleased to sign the code of conduct, as they are not inclined to show hate or discrimination in any form. Puran said that Change Guyana has always had inclusivity at its main focus which is why it is happy to be a signatory to the code of conduct. Dr. Smith later assured the media that the ERC will be looking into having the document adopted by GECOM to give its adherence more weight during the election season.