Protecting Democracy’s Precious Flame

IN a world rife with political upheaval and uncertainty, the International Day of Democracy serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring value of the democratic principles we hold dear. On this day, we find ourselves reflecting on the words of President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali of Guyana, who eloquently underscores the importance of free and fair elections as the lifeblood of democracy.

The International Day of Democracy is celebrated around the world on 15 September each year. It was established through a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007, encouraging governments to strengthen and consolidate democracy.
This year’s theme for the International Day of Democracy, “Empowering the next generation,” focuses on young people’s essential role in advancing democracy and ensuring that their voices are included in the decisions that have a profound impact on their world.
In a heartfelt message on the International Day of Democracy 2023, President Ali speaks of the profound significance of elections, describing them as the means through which citizens voice their aspirations and shape the future of their nation. He emphasises that free and fair elections are the cornerstone of sovereignty, a reminder of the long and arduous journey towards democracy that Guyana has undertaken.

The Guyanese President’s message resounds with historical resonance. It evokes the memory of a nation that endured a harrowing 24-year period of democratic interruption from 1968 to 1992. Those dark times serve as a stark reminder of the sacrifices made for the sake of liberty, where voices were stifled, rights violated, and dreams impaled. It is a testament to the indomitable spirit of pro-democratic forces that Guyana emerged from this perilous era.

However, the struggles of the past do not define Guyana alone. In 2020, the nation faced another ominous challenge when forces attempted to undermine the integrity of its free and fair elections. It was a moment that tested the very core of democracy, yet through the vigilant efforts of citizens, the international community, and institutions, Guyana thwarted those who sought to steal the people’s votes.

This triumph of democracy underscored the importance of remaining eternally vigilant against those who would subvert the democratic will of the people. The lesson here is clear: democracy is fragile and must be continuously safeguarded. Authoritarianism and election manipulation remain constant threats, adapting with time and becoming increasingly ingenious.

President Ali’s message serves as a call to action for all nations, reminding us of our collective responsibility to protect and nurture democracy for ourselves and future generations. The sacrifices made by those who came before us to secure our democratic rights should not be forgotten. We honour their memory by preserving and defending the democratic values we hold dear.

Guyana’s experience in 2020 exemplifies the challenges faced by democracies globally. It is a stark reminder that democracy’s path is not always smooth, and it requires unwavering commitment and vigilance. The recent revelations from the Presidential Commission of Inquiry regarding the 2020 elections in Guyana highlight the insidious nature of efforts to undermine democracy.

The CoI’s findings reveal that Guyana’s democracy was under threat from within, with senior officials conspiring to divert votes and manipulate results. These actions violated the principles of electoral integrity and impartiality. The report’s conclusion that certain officials “abandoned all need for neutrality and impartiality” is deeply troubling and exposes the corrosive influence of partisanship within electoral institutions.

As we reflect on these challenges, it becomes evident that democracy requires not only a commitment to free and fair elections but also strong and impartial institutions. The politicization of electoral bodies, as seen in Guyana, undermines their ability to operate effectively and impartially. This is a problem that extends beyond Guyana’s borders and demands international attention and action.

The International Day of Democracy is an opportunity for us all to recommit to the principles of democracy, to protect the institutions that uphold it, and to ensure that the voices of citizens are heard and respected. President Ali’s message reminds us that democracy is worth preserving, even in the face of adversity. It is a precious flame that must be protected, for it is the beacon of hope and progress for nations around the world.

In the end, the true test of a democracy lies not in its absence of challenges but in its ability to overcome them, to learn from its mistakes, and to emerge stronger and more resilient. Guyana’s journey is a testament to the enduring spirit of democracy, and it serves as an inspiration for all nations striving to protect the democratic rights and aspirations of their citizens.


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