ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation, studies in the Americas indicate that 10 to 15 per cent of the population at any given time has some sort of mental disorder, with three to five per cent suffering from a severe chronic mental disorder. Using the above statistics, out of a population of about 750,000, this would mean that an estimated 75,000 to 112,500 Guyanese suffer from mental disorders while 22,500 to 37,500 suffer from severe mental illness. Mental disorder is characterised by persistently depressed moods or a loss of interest in activities causing impairment in daily life. The attempt to rig the general election has added to the statistics of mental disorders in Guyana. I think that some sections of Guyana are suffering from Post-Electoral Rigging Syndrome (PERS). They are traumatised.
PERS has added to colonialism, slavery, indentureship, dictatorship, and suchlike that Guyanese have endured for the past 300 years. We know that these events have disturbed, damaged, and destroyed lives – suicide, violence, depression, and so on – amid techniques of resistance and accommodation. Fortunately, there are a few mental health treatment facilities across Guyana offering help to those in need. These facilities, however, lack trained mental health workers. Services are limited and inaccessible. Not surprisingly, mental health services are also “provided” by specific religious groups, local Shamans, and immediate family members. Still, unknown numbers of Guyanese care less about mental health services and approach life challenges individually, akin to Guyana’s fictional figure, Banwaree’s oft-cited idiom of: “Bear yuh chafe, buddy.” Guyanese do not generally seek help for their problems because they do not want people “to know their problems and laugh at them”. Put together, these are unfortunate, if not explosive, situations that could be “remedied” if help is offered.
PERS has also added to an ongoing problem in Guyana. For too long, we have pushed our politically “created” problems under the rug only for them to resurface. May I remind and restate that the brazen attempt to steal the general election to favour the APNU+AFC Coalition was an attack on the sanctity of electoral freedom. The rigotonians’ puerile and futile narrative to deny any attempt to steal an election in which thousands watched footage of a macabre display of barbarism is worse than the rigging attempt. Isn’t this enough to disturb anyone’s mind, not to mention that many believed that they were going back to the days of dictatorship? The impact of this dictatorship on Guyanese is yet to be addressed, and so when the rigging attempt was going on for over five months, anxious feelings of past rigging naturally raised their ugly head.
The question is, what are we going to do about electoral rigging and PERS? We cannot wait for the well-informed maxim that only when “rain falls then a monkey wants to build a house”. We must act now since the rigging thing has become a running national sore, if not, native to Guyana’s post-independence experience. Unfortunately, the attempt of electoral rigging is not over, and what has happened is that the riggers have become hardened and callous. Electoral rigging will reemerge because it is too deep-seated for quick uprooting. The threat of electoral rigging has advanced into our daily lives and dreams, not only around the electoral season every five years. Some sections are calling for addressing the cause for electoral malpractice pointing to the unequal distribution of resources and livelihood opportunities among the two main ethnic groups. This has been an ongoing narrative that deserves attention, but we would be kidding ourselves if the halo of respectability and the embers of fairness are not implanted and stoked in the minds of those who are elected to be impartial in their duties of responsibility. The dereliction of duty based on blind loyalty must be examined, exposed, and deselected. Nothing can be achieved if we only examine one side of the same coin. It is often mentioned how other countries in the Caribbean have conducted fair and free elections, but what is not said is how much effort is put into the practice of fair elections, to stamp out the motive to rig.
I call upon the new PPP/C administration to address this serious situation of PERS by providing services for psychological help. There ought to be a national awareness that sounds like this: if you believe you have experienced post-election trauma from the last general election, be assured that we are providing help at locations A, B, and C across the country to all Guyanese irrespective of political affiliation. Develop centres to treat politically induced ills. Meanwhile, I suggest that if there is a past policy of dealing with the cancer of election rigging, please dig it up now, dust it off, and get on with business. Mark my words, time is already running out. Let the policy of dealing with rigged elections be more than a catchphrase; let it be a rallying cry, a national motto (firstname.lastname@example.org).