In August, Guyana observed the first anniversary since the democratic change in administration with the government and its supporters lavishing praise on Caricom leaders for their role in convincing the then incumbent Granger-led administration to accept the outcome of a free and fair election.
Caricom leaders, including Dr Keith Rowley, journeyed to Guyana at a critical time, mere days after the election, when it appeared that the outcome was going to be rigged, triggering racial violence. Caricom demanded that the incumbent respect the will of the electorate and hand over power. Off course, it took sanctions from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an American ultimatum for Granger to step down and allow the winner Irfaan Ali to assume the reins of power.
With its action, Caricom demonstrated that it can effectively facilitate, with assistance from a powerful ally like the US and/or Canada, a peaceful transition of power. Other regional countries will benefit from the presence of regional observers to ensure that the elections are credible and, furthermore, to usher in a peaceful transition if required.
It would be recalled that Caricom was criticised for closing its eyes to fraudulent elections and an illegal government in Guyana between July 1968 and October 1992 and its ineffectiveness during political crises thereafter. In March 2020, after appeals from civic figures and individuals like myself writing in the regional press, Caricom took action, demonstrating effectiveness in safeguarding the democratic rights of Guyanese voters. It helped ensure a peaceful transition of power as mandated by the electorate. This was the first time that Caricom played a very active and direct role during a regional election to ensure credibility and rule of law, an election that was all set to be rigged with compliance and conspiracy from elements in Guyana’s Electoral Commission.
The involvement of the Caribbean leaders in negotiations with Granger and Jagdeo, the leaders of the two contending political forces in Guyana, was significant in arriving at a resolution to the electoral crisis. It also relates the importance of the regional body in brokering peace in a member state.
The elongation tactics employed by Granger to reject the outcome of a credible election after realising he was defeated led to some violence and instability. The situation could have gotten out of hand. Caricom’s intervention nipped the violence in its bud.
Caricom sent observers to Guyana election in March 2020 and spearheaded the recounting that occurred in June and July. The observers and recount experts certified that the results were a reflection of the will of the people. Other international observers declared that the election was free and fair. With its success in Guyana last year, Caricom should continue to play a meaningful role in observing elections in the region and issuing a firmer voice in pronouncing on the credibility (or lack thereof) of elections. In addition, Caricom should send advance missions to countries to assess their readiness to hold elections. Had it done so between 1968 and 1992, Guyana would not have slipped into becoming a dictatorship.
Besides Caricom, non-state actors like civic forces also played a key role last year in observing the elections as well as the count and recount of ballots, and in pressuring the incumbent to accept the outcome of the vote. A few of us worked behind the scenes to make sure Gecom did the right thing, never mind that Guyanese politicians are ungrateful in recognising our role.
Civic organisations need to strengthen their presence in the society and in holding politicians to account. Non-state actors must play a greater role in elections and in promoting peace among politicians. Civil society must get into a position to negotiated actionable and legitimate commitments by politicians to embrace and stability.
At the same time, I note that outside intervention and civic pressure would not work unless political leaders to adhere to the democratic process and respect the wishes of voters.
Elections convey the will of the people. Credible elections remain a significant aspect of the democratic process of Guyana. Although democracy was saved last year through international intervention, a number of factors, such as corruption and election irregularities continue to pose challenges and remain an Achilles heel in consolidating democracy. Caricom should offer guidance to clean up the process.
Dr Vishnu Bisram