GUYANESE are expected to go to the polls in March 2023 for the first time since the APNU+AFC’s attempt to steal the general elections of March, 2020. Thankfully, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has been restructured and reformed since that infamous act and seems prepared to deliver an election of the highest standard and credibility.
Voters will elect councillors for 70 National Democratic Councils (NDCs) or rural bodies and 10 municipalities (towns).
It is important for every elector to participate in this process, as it is said that when people vote, they’re not just electing government officials, they are also expressing their preferences, satisfaction, and or dissatisfaction as an electorate for candidates and parties.
Typically, local elections in Guyana and any country rarely receive much attention, although turnout of about 40 per cent at Guyana’s most recent LGEs is substantially higher than in most other countries, including in the USA.
But LGEs are very important, and there has been a lot of attention on GECOM’s preparation for the elections, encouraging people to become involved in the process — as candidates and or volunteers on behalf of candidates or parties, and come out to cast votes.
Guyana operates a mixed-member electoral system for LGEs — half the seats on the NDCs and townships are chosen through a single-member constituency-based system, so that individual candidates who receive the most votes in their constituencies or wards gain the seat — and half of the seats are proportional representation — whereby the parties receive seats in proportion to the share of votes they receive. The newly elected councillors then choose a Chair and Deputy Chair or a Mayor and Deputy Mayor.
They can be changed if the body is not pleased with an individual’s performance. Compared with a system of direct elections for Mayor or Chair by voters, which is also used for the presidency in the national election, this indirect approach in electing the executive in local entities encourages upward accountability and rewards performance with upward mobility.
This allows the LGEs to strongly reflect individual popularity, capability, capacity, and competence in positions.
In the 2016 and 2018 LGEs, the then opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) experienced gains in seats, more in the latter polls. For LGEs 2023, recent opinion polls conducted projected bigger gains for the now ruling PPP/C, including in what historically has been opposition PNC strongholds.
If the poll’s findings bear out, it will be a watershed moment in the political landscape of the country. The projected gains for the PPP/C, the poll states, is largely attributed to the popularity of President, Dr Irfaan Ali; Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo, and Prime Minister, Brigadier (Ret’d) Mark Phillips and the government, and the unpopularity of the Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton and his PNC.
The poll’s findings state that the PPP/C administration has performed exceptionally over the last 28 months since assuming office and will be deservingly rewarded with control of most of the 80 local governments. The PNC, on the other hand, has performed dismally as an opposition since August 2020.
The opposition has been engaged in race baiting and rabble rousing, and they have also been oppositionist to every progressive move of the government. The incumbent PPP, on the other hand, has been promoting ethnic inclusivity in its “One Guyana” policy and availing resources and government to all, irrespective of neighbourhood, race, and age.
While an election generally is a referendum on the incumbent, LGEs 2023 will be a referendum on Aubrey Norton and the PNC — whether they can hold on to their traditional base. It will also be a referendum on the PPP/C and President Ali.
It will not be surprising if voters reward President Ali with a huge win because he and the PPP/C administration have performed exceedingly well since being elected to the seat of government in August 2020.
In contrast, the projected decline in electoral support for the PNC/R can be interpreted as a degeneration of the party because of its attempt to rig the 2020 elections and disillusionment with its performance in government between May 2015 and July 2020.