WE have editorialised before about the importance of citizens exercising their right to vote. Towards that end, we stressed how essential it is for voter turnout in the coming elections to be considerably improved. It is for that reason that we are heartened at the reports that voter turnout surpassed the 80% mark at the just concluded early voting by the armed forces. While the armed forces represent a relatively small subset of the electorate, it is not completely out of place to conclude that their high turnout could well tell us something about what to expect on March 2.
An almost 82% turnout by any segment of the population is good news for the democratic process. Democracy thrives on wide citizen participation and is undermined by reduced engagement. As we observed in an earlier editorial, low voter turnout in the wider Caribbean region has been a problem. We cited the recent election in Dominica where voter turnout was a mere 53.7 per cent as the perfect example of this growing problem. If half of registered voters stay away from the polls, then something is radically wrong and should be fixed.
Some have linked voter turnout to confidence in the larger political process. There is much validity to that claim, and this may well be the case here in Guyana. In fact, one of the arguments that leaders of the Coalition have been making is that it was their government that restored the nation’s confidence in a broken political system. They have charged the now opposition PPP with undermining public confidence in the system and inducing a heavy dose of alienation. Thus, it is understandable that the Coalition would argue that the higher than usual voter turnout by the armed forces is due to their confidence in the current government. Whether one agrees with that assessment or not should not deter us from recognizing the positiveness in the outcome under discussion.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the PPP has not made much of the issue. Maybe that party is less interested in what happens among a segment of the electorate that they perceive to be outside of their natural constituency. Whatever the reason, it is quite unbecoming of a major political party to fail to laud a positive development such as improved voter turnout. The problem of narrow partisan interests over national concerns continues to be a major shortcoming of that party. At some point the rank and file of the party must ask whether such a party effectively serves their interests.
In any case, it would be remiss of this publication to not use the example of the armed forces to urge the wider electorate to flock the polls on polling day. We join the rest of the nation in commending the members of the armed forces for setting a positive tone for the rest of the society to follow. We are thankful . If these elections lead to a rekindling of a greater civic participation in the future, Guyana would be eternally grateful to you.
As a national institution, our interest is in the larger picture. We urge voters to emulate the example of the members of the armed forces and keep our fledgling democracy alive. For those who are more alienated than others, we respectfully urge you to rise above your doubts and give your country another chance. Remember the heroic sacrifices of your ancestors whose long struggles in the valley were also for the right to vote and to determine who governs.
Voter participation is essential to electoral justice. Citizens should not allow others to determine for them who governs. By staying away from the polls, you are ceding your right to decision-making to those who show up. If you vote, you are more likely to take responsibility for the outcome of the collective vote. You are also giving yourself a better chance of holding accountable your representatives, both in and out of government. In the last analysis, the vote is a tool in the hand of the citizen to craft a future not only for themselves but also for their children who cannot now vote.