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Guyanese Politics, Oil and Sovereignty – Part One

Education 01 Jul, 2020 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

The countries of the English-Speaking Caribbean, sometimes described as dots of sand in the Caribbean Sea, have been punching above their weight in the world. For example, these islands have so far produced three noble Laurates – Sir Arthur Lewis in Economics, the first and so far the only black person to win a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and Sir Derek Walcott and Sir V.S. Naipaul, in literature. Reggae and Calypso are two of the regions prized cultural exports.

Geographically speaking, Guyana is in South America, but culturally, it is part of the Anglophone Caribbean. In addition to producing sugar, bauxite, rice, gold, timber, diamonds, garments, rum and pharmaceuticals, Guyana has given to the world some of the greatest sportsmen, scholars, and diplomats.

In cricket, Clive Lloyd epitomizes the classic leader, and antiapartheid champion who led the West Indies Team when it was the very best in the world. Carl Hooper, played his cricket more delicately and with more finesse than Shakespeare wrote his plays and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, could dominate a game of cricket at will.

In scholarship, Walter Rodney stands out as one of the greatest thinkers of all times; his book - How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, one of the most acclaimed of the 20th century that focuses on African development and post-colonial theory. But one should not underestimate the place of other Guyanese intellectuals such as C. Y. Thomas, David Dabydeen, Russel Rickford and so on.

Sir Shridath Ramphal is the revered statesman and diplomat and the Guyanese poet Martin Carter is celebrated as one of the most important poets of the Caribbean region. Carter’s poem, ‘This is the Dark Time My Love’ is one of the most known and celebrated. It was written when the British sent troops into the then British Guiana as it disapproved of the results of the April 27, 1953 elections, when the Peoples Progressive Party ( PPP), then a coalition of the country’s two main ethnic groups, won the election. The democratically elected government was removed, the constitution of Guyana suspended, and a government more to the liking of the British was installed. Verse two of Carter’s poem reads:

‘This is the dark time, my love,

It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears.

It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery.

Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious.’

But as wonderful as these are, they have not been the subject that has Guyana in the news recently. It is the election that was held on March 02 and oil that began to be produced on December 20, 2019 five years after discovery in May 2015. Exxon Mobil estimates that Guyana has around eight billion barrels and expects about 750,000 daily barrels of production. As has been pointed out, this means that by 2025, should all go well, Guyana’s GDP could go be so transformed as to make it potentially the richest country in the world.

Undoubtedly, this fact had bestowed added urgency and importance to this election.

The Snap general elections were held on 2 March 2020 occasioned by the one-seat majority of the government and a loss of a vote of no confidence.

The reports are that although election day and the initial count were deemed to be free, fair and credible, the process of tabulating the votes was widely seen to have been fraudulent. The final region to declare gave a significant boost to the ruling APNU–AFC alliance, allowing it to overtake the main opposition party, the People's Progressive Party (PPP/C).

Attempts to swear David A. Granger back in as president were thwarted when an injunction was granted on March 6 by the High Court to block the declaration of the overall results of the elections until the matter could be heard and determined. Granger recommended a recount, which was completed on 8 June. The recount showed that the PPP/C party won the most votes.

Since then the Partnership for National Unity (APNU) says there were too many anomalies and irregularities and wanted the quality of the votes to be a factor in the final report. An injunction handed down by the Court of Appeal held that only valid votes could be considered leading Keith Lowenfield, the Chief Election Officer, to Invalidate some 115 000 votes making for a victory for the government. The matter has now been referred to the CCJ, Guyana’s highest court. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had already issued a restraining order against the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) prohibiting it from declaring the results.

The CCJ will shortly begin hearing arguments about whether it has jurisdiction to hear the appeal filed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and the party’s presidential candidate, Irfaan Ali in relation to a Court of Appeal ruling.

The Economist of March 19 gives an apt summary of the nature of Guyanese politics.

‘In Guyana, party divisions follow ethnic ones. Mr Granger’s A Partnership for National Unity represents mainly Afro-Guyanese, who are 30% of the population. The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) defends principally the interests of the Indo-Guyanese, 40% of the total. The rift is made worse by an electoral system that makes members of parliament directly accountable to party leaders rather than to constituents. This poisons political debate, thwarts compromise, and undermines any sense of unified national purpose.’

Outside reactions to this unfortunate situation have been swift, many and various. CARICOM, through its current Chairperson, Mia Motley, PM of Barbados, has been vociferous in calling for the vote count preceding the invalidation to be seen as credible, giving victory to the party in opposition, the PPP. The recount, which was supervised by a high-level three-member CARICOM team, proved that the PPP won the elections by more than 15,000 votes.

Local and international observers, including the Private Sector Commission (PSC), the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Commonwealth, and others have urged acceptance of the recount results. ‘This is definitely not our finest hour’ Motley is reported as saying.

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has called on the Guyanese government to concede defeat and to declare the winner of the elections based on the national vote recount scrutinized by CARICOM. The view of the US is similar to those of the EU, Canada, and the Organization of American States (OAS).

There is even not so veiled talk of sectoral sanctions, the use of Guyanese gas as leverage, and the revocation of visas, as possible sanctions.


Guyana Must get it Right

Guyana, a sovereign nation since 1966, must get it right, for its people and the region.

As Sir Shridath Ramphal said recently, “The outcome of the Guyana General Election 2020 must be an example — not only in Guyana but regionally and worldwide — of the strength of law and democracy.”

“As Guyanese, we owe it to ourselves, to the Caribbean Community, which we have helped to bring to life, and to the wider global community whose respect we have earned as an enlightened democratic State, not to debase ourselves by descent into the pit of lawlessness.”

The current Guyanese situation is an excellent point for examining notions of sovereignty, development, ethnic politics, and the nature of the Westminster system. We pick up on these in a further article on the subject.

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