Democratic roadblock in Guyana

VP Bharat Jagdeo just informed the nation on the status of the proposals for electoral reform through amendments to the Representation of the Peoples Act (ROPA). The new PPP Government and the nation had accepted the need for these changes so that the abomination of the rigging attempt by the PNC-led-APNU/AFC coalition in the 2020 elections would not be repeated. Last November, the government had announced a number of amendments it thought appropriate and had invited the nation and the diaspora to comment on the proposals or make additional suggestions, as they saw fit. The timeline for submissions expired in mid-December.
In the meantime, to make it clear that there is additional underbrush to be cleared, the VP revealed that changes to the Registration Act will also have to be made. More specifically, for instance, he said that while it had always been the law for the names of the dead to be removed from the National Register of Registrants (from which the Preliminary Voters List (PVL) is extracted) the procedure has to be made more specific since it became clear that some names of the deceased stubbornly remained. The very common-sense suggestion was proffered by the government that the General Registrar’s Office (GRO) compiles an annual list of the deceased and this is used by GECOM to “sanitize” the PVL. To make the process more transparent, it was suggested that this list be publicized to that all stakeholders can be informed and comment.
However, five months have elapsed since the process of electoral reform was initiated and we now learn that most of the input has only come from GECOM and a civil society group – Electoral Reform Group (ERG) – formed explicitly for this purpose. Most worryingly, the Opposition, which had complained strenuously about the electoral system explicitly and implicitly through its elections petitions, has not proffered any suggestions. For a party that claims that thousands of dead and emigrated persons voted in 2020 – unlike in 2015 when they won the elections – one would have thought they had cogitated long and hard as to how this was achieved and would be chock-full of suggestions on how to prevent such occurrences in the future.
The Government’s proposal on dealing with deceased voters on the NRR addressed one subset of the Opposition’s protests about the” bloated list” of 600,000 registrants in a population of 750,000. This is seeming anomaly is very common in all CariCom jurisdictions because of the combination of a high emigration rate and a constitutional right of overseas citizens to vote. As has been pointed out before, during and after elections, the only ex-ante “solution” is to abolish this latter right. This, however, needs a constitutional change that would require the agreement of the government and opposition on the issue. The Opposition has not shown any inclination to suggest this path. The operational “solution” which exists is the very detailed checks and balances system in place institutionally at the polling stations. These are intended to prevent persons from voting for either the departed (dead) or departed (emigrated) because of the built-in redundancy.
However, from some comments made by the Opposition camp, it would appear that they have more fundamental objections to the electoral system. They seem to have given up on democratic elections to deliver legitimate governments in Guyana. At one time, their complaint was that because of entrenched ethnic voting, and their ethnic base being a minority, power-sharing was the only option for a legitimate Guyanese government. However, this claim was performatively disproved in 2011 and 2015 when the PPP was effectively defeated because of the changing demographics. We now have no single ethnic majority so either of the two major parties that moderate their rhetoric to attract a small percentage of the “outside” group, can now win elections.
David Granger did not heed this caution and we hope that the new PNC leader, who appears to be much more pragmatic, embraces this New Democratic opportunity.