Elections are here. In less than 42 days, the Guyanese people will go to the polls. As usual, these elections have stirred worrying tensions. I was present at a rally held by the PPP in Linden this past Sunday. At the height of the rally which was attended by about 4000 people, a group of APNU/AFC supporters decked out in green shirts and waving green flags marched into the crowd gathered for the rally. It was provocation. Thankfully, the PPP supporters refused to become engaged or provoked. The PPP supporters decked out in red, waving the PPP flag ignored the APNU/AFC supporters trying to invade an energised PPP gathering.
The peaceful response by PPP supporters confused the APNU/AFC supporters who discovered it takes two to tangle. Since the PPP supporters ignored them, the APNU/AFC supporters were not able to provoke any kind of disturbance and most of them simply left with their flags. Some stayed for a while but the boisterousness with which they invaded the PPP rally was replaced with listening before they departed.
After most of them left the site of the rally, one APNU/AFC supporter, who was waving the APNU/AFC flag, stopped the waving and intently listened to speeches made by the PPP General Secretary, the PPP Prime Minister candidate and the PPP Presidential Candidate. She bantered in a mutually friendly manner with PPP supporters, was presented with and accepted a PPP red shirt.
Had the same happened with PPP supporters in red, waving PPP flags, invading an energised APNU/AFC rally, what would have happened? It would not have been nice. But provocation like this is expected in Guyana, although, invariably, the provocation is one-sided.
Yes, the PPP had the audacity to come into the APNU/AFC stronghold with more than 4000 supporters, many of whom live in and around the rally site. But this is a right for any political party. And it is the right of any citizen to attend a political rally, even those who do not support the political party holding the rally. However, entering a rally of an opponent, all decked out in your party’s colour and waving your party’s flag, is provocation.
There are other examples of provocation. I watched in Essequibo as the PPP activists placed flags on poles along the highway and along streets. Within hours, those PPP flags disappeared. Activists of APNU/AFC knocked down and destroyed the PPP flags. This has happened across the country. It has happened in West Demerara, Georgetown, West Berbice, Corentyne and other places in Guyana. By and large, only PPP flags and banners are being destroyed.
In some examples that have been captured and have gone viral on social media, supporters of APNU/AFC have taken it upon themselves to prevent activists of the PPP from putting up their flags and other party paraphernalia. In one instance, at least, a supporter of APNU held his ground that the GPL posts are his and he will not permit any PPP activist to put up a flag. After initial insistence, the PPP activists decided not to be provoked and left. In South Georgetown, a bus with PPP supporters sharing out PPP flyers was stopped and prevented from traversing the area, threatened with violence.
Last week, the PPP went into Mocha, another APNU/AFC stronghold. For seventy years, the PPP has never conceded any vote or any community to the PNC/APNU/AFC or any political party. They have always fought for every vote. The PPP believes in democracy and believes that citizens can only make astute political decisions when they have access to messages from every political party. No matter how strong an activist is, the PPP believes that given a fair chance, they can persuade a voter to join them.
The PPP’s instructions to their supporters are that no one should provoke any of its opponents. The PPP’s message to supporters is if they cannot stomach the presence of another party in their communities, stay away from their meetings.
The PPP’s message to its supporters has always been that if another political party wants to put up flags, they have an absolute right to do so and no one should interfere with them. In fact, a simple visit to several PPP strongholds will show APNU/AFC’s flags are undisturbed. This is a mature approach and is what true freedom and democracy are about.
On the other hand, I do not know if the behaviour of APNU/AFC supporters at PPP public meetings and rallies, preventing activists of the PPP from doing their work, destroying PPP’s flags, banner and other paraphernalia are centrally directed or the result of spontaneous reaction from passionate supporters. But APNU/AFC has never publicly condemned such behaviour from their supporters.
In fact, they have taken to the public platform to incite people. While the PPP urged supporters to stay home when their opponents come into their community, APNU/AFC urged supporters to drive out their opponents. The recent reprehensible call for supporters to surround polling stations on Election Day is a clear incitement. Our country is better than this.