By Ravin Singh
THE Local Government Elections have been a bitter-sweet experience for many, even as the highly-anticipated historic event has been one which mirrored, in very many ways, the voting patterns of the General Elections.Held after more than two decades, the elections were greeted with a low voter turnout from early on. And despite unwavering optimism from some of the running candidates that the turnout would likely pick up during the course of the day, this failed to materialise in any form across the country.
Blame has become like a see-saw, shifting from the lack of voter education to the lack of knowledge of the impact of these elections on the lives of citizens.
Appreciated by all stakeholders in the process, except for the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), was the fact that the process had been a “smooth” one with little or no hiccups. The PPP could not be reached for comment, despite numerous attempts to secure a comment from its members up to late last evening.
First to assure that this history-making event had been a smooth process was GECOM Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield. Contacted last evening while in the midst of counting ballots, Lowenfield boasted that the smooth voting process was not only limited to Georgetown, but had been featured in all regions across the country.
But despite the process being deemed successful up to the close of polls, the CEO revealed that some parties and groups which contested had raised some minor concerns, but were advised to write to the elections regulatory body.
He indicated that one such concern came from the PPP, with that party expressing the view that the ink used to stain the voters’ fingers could have easily been removed.
Lowenfield debunked this claim, confidently assuring this publication that there was “absolutely no problem with the ink.”
Supporting Lowenfield’s contention about the process being free from anomalies was Private Sector observer Gerry Gouveia. Speaking on behalf of the private sector, Gouveia noted that no concern was raised by that body since there was no incident to suggest that the process was not professionally executed. He, however, offered that the low turnout affected all candidates, who had envisioned more support at the polls.
“We were sorry to see that turnout, because of the work GECOM did in relation to voter education,” he said.
And a local embassy observer, who was privileged to have witnessed the process in several constituencies, also said that the election was a free and fair one. Like Gouveia, he believed that the turnout was low compared to what had obtained in previous years.
However, a low voter turnout had not been the only unexpected feature of these elections. What was surprising to many was the fact that the voluntary groups which had gained momentum in the election campaign had failed to make the impact at the polls.
It had also been speculated that the larger political parties would dominate these elections, but given the grassroots nature of some of these groups, the assurance of a political seat on the council had become threatened.
Unexpectedly, though, these groups did not make the intended impact for one reason or another.
And perhaps the most popular of these was Team Benschop for Mayor, which was led by Political Activist Mark Benschop. Despite a loss, which had been unofficially calculated, the political activist expressed that he was satisfied with the process, which did not attract as many young people as was expected.
He was of the view that “voter apathy had played out”, and that it was time Guyana move away from the polarised voting pattern which was witnessed yesterday.
“Until we move away from that voting pattern, there is not going to be any change in the manner of thinking of people in Guyana. That is what Team Benschop was offering the people — to empower them,” he said.
And despite suffering a defeat in his constituency, he reaffirmed that the group remains optimistic for the future of Guyana.
Expected to pose a threat to the bigger parties, too, was Team Legacy, a group existing prior to Local Government Election. Led by Youth Pastor Eworth Williams, the team had vouched on its ability to connect with youths in “forgotten communities”, which have been stifled over the years.
Although their efforts to convince the masses to support them did not bear fruit yesterday, Williams was pleased to state that Team Legacy was satisfied with the electoral process.
“We didn’t get any negative feedback, and we think GECOM did an excellent job. I sat in Kitty and observed the process, and I think the efforts by GECOM are commendable,” he said, adding that the voters’ education process could have been intensified.
Reflecting on the voting pattern, he, too, was of the view that this painted a picture of allegiance to the bigger parties. And while the group holds strong to the notion of decentralization, he was convinced that the group was able to play a role in this process.
Not bitter about a defeat though, the Youth Pastor revealed that he was confident that the persons who had won their respective constituencies are capable of getting the job done at City Hall.
As for the party which is reported to have swept Georgetown, the APNU+AFC coalition, claiming two of the most heated constituencies, that party was also content with the process, which according to them was smooth.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, General Secretary of the AFC, David Patterson, noted that no reports of issues were made during the elections yesterday. Like the others, he agreed that the voter turnout should have been better, but he said this should not discredit the fact that those who did come out and vote demonstrated commitment to community development.
Tallying votes as he spoke to this publication, the AFC General Secretary revealed that the coalition was ahead in six of the nine townships across the country. And while the party was still awaiting the official results, it was expecting to do well, not only in traditional strongholds, but countrywide.