Civil society group wants ‘national consensus’ on electoral reform

NEWLY formed civil society group, Electoral Reform Guyana (ERG), will be engaging Guyanese in an attempt to arrive at a national consensus, as part of efforts to drive electoral reform in Guyana.

At a virtual launch on Saturday afternoon, the growing group of concerned Guyanese, in the civil society group, gathered to share their thoughts on why electoral reform is necessary, and what could possibly be done.

Well-known economist, who has written about electoral reform, Desmond Thomas, highlighted that it was clear that Guyana’s political environment is “distressed”. Though acknowledging that political systems may be inherently adversarial, he contended that it did not mean that constructive results cannot be forthcoming.

But that was not necessarily the case in Guyana; the country has been seemingly characterised by a ‘winner-takes-all’ system, which seems to isolate segments of the population.

Electoral reform, Thomas posited, will help to improve Guyana’s political system and ultimately contribute to national development. And Thomas, who is an implementation lead within the ERG, intends on helping to centre citizens in the electoral reform process.

“Guyanese need no reminding about the traumatic 2020 elections. One only has to examine the damage done to social and political relations, for example, to appreciate the negative impacts on our national development that have been associated now with the 2020 elections,” ERG Coordinator, Lawrence Lachmansingh said at the launch, as well.

Even though this year’s elections were particularly strange after being protracted for five months, Lachmansingh, a conflict and resolution specialist, reminded that many of Guyana’s post-Independence elections were also contested.

He highlighted that there were many questions about the current political system and the role stakeholders play in maintaining the status quo, or, as he said- “sustaining the problem”. He said, however, that the ERG does not have the answers to these questions.

“We are not coming with a pre-packaged diagnosis of Guyana’s electoral illness, and we don’t have a prescription for Guyana’s needed electoral medicine,” Lachmansingh said.

He, instead, reminded of Article 13 of the constitution, which states: “The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision making that directly affect their well-being.”

And so, the aim of the ERG is to forge partnerships and engage with stakeholders; the emphasis will be on engaging at the ‘grassroot’ level. When that buy-in is achieved, the national consensus will be taken to the political leaders who have the ability to make legislative change.

Co-coordinator, Kerry Anne Cort-Kansinally affirmed, “It’s important that we have that national ownership of the change we want to see.”

That national ownership, she contended, could only come if people are educated on the electoral process and if the social dialogue with them informs the legislative proposals.

Thomas also indicated that electoral reform is no guarantee that many of Guyana’s issues, which are seemingly exacerbated at elections’ time, will be alleviated. Instead, this process of dialogue and engagement is seen as an important contribution to the journey of healing and reconciliation.

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