The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), part of the respected British “Economist” magazine, issues annual reports on the state of democracy across the world. These are eagerly awaited because they offer an impartial assessment of countries’ efforts to practise democracy under different conditions. Because the same criteria are used, corrective measures can be taken by responsible leaders in the areas where their country may be lagging.
Depending on their composite scores, countries can range from being “full democracies” to “authoritarian regimes”, through intermediate “flawed” and “hybrid” democracies. In the EIU’s 2018 Report, they rated Guyana as a “flawed democracy”. To appreciate the import of the rating, one will have to unpack the 60 indicators, which are grouped into five categories – a) electoral process and pluralism; b) civil liberties; c) functioning of Government; d) political participation; and e) political culture.
With each category scored from a high of 10 to a low of 0, the average of the five scores becomes the final score. A breakdown of the 2018 overall index shows Guyana receiving a 9.17 point average for electoral process and pluralism; Government functioning 5.71; political participation 6.11; political culture 5.00; and civil liberties 7.35. Very clearly, we receive very high marks for our electoral process.
But we know that this aspect is under strain right now, because of the People’s National Congress’s actions in the appointment of the Chair of GECOM and in the ominous stalling by the organisation in delivering a definitive pronouncement on its state of readiness to conduct General and Regional elections in three months as demanded by Article 106 (7) after the successful no-confidence motion. The representatives of the Opposition and the Government were told that such an answer cannot be given unless the Chair of GECOM is present, even though the electoral mechanism is the responsibility of the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) and the Chair has been ill for over a month. It is hoped that further foot-dragging will not be forthcoming.
The EIU noted the no-confidence vote, but sadly was unable to incorporate the tendentious rear-guard actions taken by the PNC Government to vitiate the democratic outcome. It is certain that if the specious “33 is no greater than 32” argument were known to have been taken to the courts to delay the holding of elections, our score on this most crucial metric would have been much lower than the 9.17 awarded.
The lowest score given was on our “political culture” and this should be of no surprise to anyone. A country’s political culture can be looked at by looking at both the political elites and the people. In Guyana, the PNC regime between 1968 and 1985 was distinctly authoritarian in its culture and publicly declared the “paramountcy of the party over the state”. The Disciplined Forces were increased exponentially and used to suppress the populace while subverting the electoral process through blatant rigging.
The Government saw it as its duty to “mould” the destiny of the people and with its authoritarian measures sought to impose a culture of passivity and apathy in the people to make them docile and obedient – the very antithesis of what a democratic culture demands. Since 1992, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) worked assiduously to reverse these developments though the Opposition PNC fought this tooth and nail, using the unfortunate ethnic divisions in the country to play off one section against the other.
With the return of the PNC to power in 2015, ominous authoritarian developments have been noted since President Granger promised to “fulfil the legacy of Forbes Burnham”, the authoritarian “founder leader” of the PNC. The Army and Police are being enlarged as in the past and the top leadership of the latter has been shaken up. The People’s Militia has been reintroduced and the Cadet Corps soon will follow. Ex-Army and Police Officers have been placed in almost all Government departments like the communist “political commissars” of yore.
The other scores show the same downward spiral and if continued will definitely plunge us into the “hybrid” democracy/authoritarian category.