The world watched in shock and awe as the scenes of the insurrection, defined as “a violent uprising against an authority or government”, played out at the US Capitol Building last Wednesday. The mob of extreme right-wing supporters of President Donald Trump, armed with bats and guns, were determined to block the declaration of Joe Biden as the President-elect of the US. They had been encouraged by Trump in a long harangue to them.
Five persons were killed before order was restored and the Electoral College count resumed to its inevitable denouement. Still insisting that the Elections were fraudulent, Trump finally conceded, but broke over 150 years of precedent by announcing he would not attend Biden’s inauguration. Several US leaders, including former President George Bush, denounced the insurrectionary action as typical of “Banana Republics” and the “Third World”. They were comparing America’s comparatively orderly elections over the last century, where the centrality of democratic elections to legitimise the governors by the governed had never been questioned.
Some in Guyana, especially supporters of the PNC, questioned the operations of the American electoral system, and claimed that the comparison was unfair. But was it? We had been under direct British colonial rule for a century and a half, which they had justified by claiming that we were not ready for the responsibilities of democratic governance, and we had to be “tutored” into its minutiae. Elections to choose leaders and the responsibility of those leaders to observe democratic norms were central to the British argument.
In Britain, those norms had been imbibed organically, and enlarged in the centuries following the promulgation of the Magna Carta in 1215, in which King John granted a Charter of Liberties to his subjects following demands by Barons and clerics. In 1832, not coincidentally the year before the Emancipation Act was mooted, Britain introduced its Elections Reform Act, which was gradually expanded until 1928, when women could vote with men who were 21 years old. In Guyana, we lagged as we were “tutored” and, in 1953, experienced our first democratic elections under universal suffrage.
This was followed by the betrayal of democracy and the introduction of insurrectionary politics by the PNC, launched by Forbes Burnham when he refused to allow internal democratic principles to operate to choose the leader of the PPP, of which he had been Chairman and Cheddi Jagan Leader. Losing elections in 1957 and 1961 to the latter, he connived with foreign elements to launch protests, arson and “sit-ins” of Government buildings to prevent the democratically elected Government to function. In one of the latter actions in front of Parliament Buildings, Cheddi Jagan, in his vehicle, was viciously attacked by a mob of PNC supporters. This was the introduction of insurrectionary politics in Guyana in pursuit of Burnham’s “leader or nothing” demand, which resulted in him being installed into office in 1964, after a virtual civil war in the country.
Rigging elections for the next 28 years, with an enlarged military behind him, kept the PNC illegally in office until the free and fair elections of 1992. However, in a move reminiscent of the insurrectionary raid on Capitol Hill, PNC mobs invaded the Elections HQ with President Jimmy Carter inside. He and democracy in Guyana were saved from the insurrection by a call from sitting President Bush. Five years later, protesting the results of the 1997 elections, PNC goons reacted to a ruling by Justice Bernard on the swearing in of Janet Jagan by attacking and mauling hundreds of Indian-Guyanese, deemed to be PPP supporters. Another insurrection.
The violence continued for a decade, escalating into armed attacks by gunmen calling themselves “African Freedom Fighters” who were associated with elements of the PPP. In 2003, PNC protestors attacked the Presidential Office, resulting in several persons killed in the PNC “slow fyaah, mo’ fyaah” insurrectionary strategy.
The PNC has again disputed the results of the 2020 elections, and insurrectionary rhetoric is flying fast and furious.
Forewarned is forearmed about PNC insurrectionary politics.