By Svetlana Marshall
ANXIETY was high although the atmosphere was peaceful in Bartica, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) on Friday, as both the main political parties and the voluntary group kept their fingers crossed at the close of polls in one of the most historic Local Government Elections ever to be here in Guyana.Political candidates from the three main groups –- the APNU+AFC Coalition, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the Bartica Independence Green Alliance (BIGA) — all expressed concern over the low voter turnout.
Approximately 6,920 persons were expected to vote in Bartica, but when the 22 polling stations across the municipal area opened at 06:00 hrs, only a few persons had turned up to vote. And some of these polling stations, like Future Builders Nursery School, Two Miles Primary School and Pam’s Family Circle, were still empty even at about 08:00 hrs. However, during the course of the day, the number of voters gradually grew.
The APNU+AFC candidate for Mayor, Mr Gifford Marshall, told the Guyana Chronicle that if felt good to have participated in the historic elections. “I think today (Friday) is a new one for the record book. History is being written, and it’s a good opportunity for us to take advantage of selecting our own leaders,” he posited.
He, however, conceded that the race is a close one. “Given the fact that it is Local Government Elections and we have a group and two political parties participating, there is no large margin of victory…but we are convinced that, throughout the township of Bartica, in all of the constituencies, we have mass support,” a confident Marshall declared.
The 35-year-old current Chairman of the Bartica Interim Management Committee (IMC) said the race to the victory line became more complex because of low voter turnout. Alluding to the polling station at Hill View Nursery School, where he had cast his vote, the APNU+AFC candidate said that during General Elections, hundreds of residents would usually gather to vote from as early as 05:30 hrs; but at the opening of that polling station on Friday, less than 15 persons had joined the line to exercise their political franchise. Nevertheless, he said, voting in Bartica was smooth.
Another APNU+AFC candidate, Kenneth Williams, told this newspaper that Local Government Elections in Bartica had little or no hiccups. “It was extremely smooth, extremely smooth. In fact, I have seen no incidence of disturbances whatsoever.”
Though the voter turned out appeared slow, Williams said there was a “mad rush” to get people out. “Reps from all of the parties have been going house to house, encouraging people to go out and vote. But we are seeing a strong victory for APNU+AFC,” he explained.
The BIGA chief candidate, Holbert Knights, who voted at the Baptist Place Polling Station, said he was unimpressed with the number of persons who had turned up to vote. “I haven’t seen a line at any of the polling stations, and we have visited approximately 80 per cent of the stations; and that is my only concern right now. Usually, at election time, you would see long lines of persons all over Bartica, and that is not visible right now,” he said.
CONFIDENT OF VICTORY
However, he said, based on observations, the process went smoothly. He explained that, upon entering the polling station, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) officers gave clear instructions as to how to vote.
He is optimistic that BIGA would emerge victorious.
Another BIGA candidate, Christopher George, told the Guyana Chronicle: “Local Government Elections is new; it’s strange, and, for Bartica, it seems to have more tension than General Elections.”
He said that unlike the last General Elections, two parties and one group are competing for the votes in this local election.
Former Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai was manning the PPP/C Command Centre on Second Avenue. “I could only tell you based on the reports that we are getting, and the reports are that at most of the polling stations polling began on time, the contesting groups in all of the polling stations have field polling agents; and from information, there seem to be a low voter turnout,” Sukhai told Guyana Chronicle.
Notwithstanding the concern over the low voter turnout, those who turned up to vote were overwhelmed with joy to have participated in these historic elections. Local Government Elections were held on Friday, after their last holding in 1994.
“I feel good to be voting for the first time in Local Government Elections,” 64-year-old Merlin Nathan said, shortly after exiting the Hill View Nursery School Polling Station at Third Avenue in Constituency Three.
For her, the voting process was easy, and, as such, she was able to vote for the political party or group of her choice in the Proportional Representation (PR) component of the elections, and for a candidate in the First-Past-The-Post component.
Nathan said she is excited about the future of Bartica, given the improvements witnessed since November 2015.
Edward Persaud, a first time voter in the Local Government Elections, said he felt empowered to have exercised his political franchise. “It’s kind of touching…because after being denied this opportunity for the past 22 years, and based on the developments we would have seen over the past four months, I am pleased to have played my part.”
He added: “What have been done in and around the community of Bartica have really stimulated Barticians to come out and be a part of this historic process.”
Shallen Bacchus of Fourth Avenue, Bartica said voting at Hill View Nursery School Polling Station was problem-fee. “I am happy, happy; and I feel young to have voted for the first time in Local Government Elections.”
She said Local Government Elections speak of change, not only for the people of Bartica, but for the rest of Guyana.
Over at the Bartica Secondary School in Constituency Six, 83-year-old Mellie Singh said she did not get an opportunity to vote in the 1994 Local Government Elections, but felt great to have participated in the process this time around.
The elderly woman said that when the results are announced and councillors are sworn in, she has major expectations in the area of infrastructure and waste management.
Joyce Persaud, along with her three Anderson daughters, said it was important for them to participate in the local elections. “The outcome of these elections would determine the future of this town in the area of infrastructure,” Persaud posited as they headed to the Byderabo NDC/IMC Municipal Centre.
Most of the voters in Bartica who spoke to Guyana Chronicle concluded that the new voting process was smooth and easy to understand.
However, 76-year-old Randolph George and his 68-year-old wife, Lucy, had no clue what to do when they entered the polling station at Baptiste Place. The elderly couple who hail from Mora Camp, approximately one and a half miles from Central Bartica, said they did not benefit from the voter education programme since they do not have access to television or radio, due to the lack of electricity.
“I didn’t know who to vote for, so I just put it anywhere…nobody never explain what we have to do, so I just do anything,” Lucy George said, even as her husband interjected: “I vote though; I vote at de top and at de bottom.”