The Right to Vote
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THE draft of a proposal to amend the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) is already in the public domain. Guyanese are invited to submit views on the way forward.

The main objective of the proposed amendments to the electoral laws is to examine the process from registration to the declaration of results with a view to ensuring that every step in the process is transparent and unambiguous.

With Local Government Elections on the horizon, the importance of such amendments cannot be over-emphasised, especially when seen against the background of what transpired in the last General and Regional elections. There is no way in which such elections can be credibly held with the existing laws and the present configuration of the GECOM Secretariat. Every vote must be counted and any amendment that will allow for the full transparency and accountability of every vote must be applauded.

When it comes to the transparency and accountability of the vote, every Guyanese is a stakeholder. The vote is sacred and must not, under any circumstance, be violated. It is the sum total of individual voting preferences that ultimately determines which party forms the executive and who are elected to represent us in Parliament.

The right to vote did not come about easily. Prior to 1953, not everyone was allowed to vote. That right was limited only to the rich and the propertied class. It was not until the formation of the PPP in 1950 that pressure was intensified to have universal adult suffrage which was eventually granted just prior to the holding of the 1953 elections. It was only then that all Guyanese, 21 years and over were allowed to vote. That was a monumental gain at the time when the expatriate class exercised enormous influence over the colonial government.

Interestingly, the League of Coloured People (LPG) opposed the granting of universal adult suffrage. The League was an African middle class organisation which later became part of the People’s National Congress (PNC) after the split of the PPP in 1955. The records will show that it was the PPP that again advocated for the voting age to be reduced from 21 to 18 years and it was the PNC that opposed the move.

But the biggest blow to the franchise took place in the 1968 elections when massive electoral fraud took place by the Burnham administration to perpetuate the life of his regime after the United Force was kicked out of the PNC-UF Coalition government just prior to the elections. For nearly three decades the PNC rigged its way to power, making a mockery of that hard-fought right to vote. Voting became an exercise in futility as the PNC regime used every conceivable means at its disposal to return itself to power against the wishes of the electorate.

All of that sounded familiar having regard to what transpired in the March 2, 2020 General and Regional elections when the APNU+AFC Coalition again attempted to return itself to power by fraudulent means. What it did not factor in this time, however, was the changing nature of the local and international environment. The days of party paramountcy had long come to an end and the justice system was no longer subservient to the Executive as was hitherto the case. The Cold War ended over three decades ago and there was no longer any appetite for rigged elections on the part of the international community.

Many Guyanese, especially the younger generation, saw first-hand the blatant attempt to rig elections by the APNU+AFC Coalition with the help of some rogue elements in the GECOM Secretariat. It was quite an experience and another shameful episode which will long be remembered.

Democracy in Guyana today is much more institutionalised than in the past and it is not that easy to obtain power by fraudulent means. This does not mean, however, that we should take things for granted. The political opposition, for understandable reasons, may be reluctant to participate in the consultation process but they do have an opportunity to contribute to the process of electoral reforms. The shadow of the past still continues to haunt it, but there is no reason why with enlightened thinking and a concern for the democratic health of the society it cannot move beyond that ugly past.

One key element of the proposed amendments is to ensure that the playing field is level when it comes to electoral outcomes. In other words, the amendments seek to ensure that no political party enjoys any advantage in terms of the electoral processes.

President Dr. Irfaan Ali has already signalled his full support for any reforms intended to enhance transparency and accountability to the electoral processes. It is now for the main political opposition to demonstrate that it is prepared to play by the rules of a fair and transparent process.

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