Post 365.

Here as in Guyana, we live with myriad injustices, but continue to assert a sense of expectation that state institutions – such as the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) or the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) – will protect us from the likelihood of fraudulent politics which undermine democratic agreement and inclusion.

It is to our credit that, against all odds, we remain invested in rule of law and are provoked into anger at its blatant violation. When that anger turns to violence, however, much more than democracy is threatened.

In their Letter to the Editor, Karen de Souza, Josephine Whitehead and Danuta Radzik, representing Guyanese NGOs Red Thread, Help and Shelter, and Child Link, wrote,

“We are alarmed at the acts of intimidation, the threats, and verbal attacks including sexual threats to women and girls, the physical violence, the reports of property invasion by groups, attacks on police officers and schoolchildren and ethnicity-based attacks being reported in several communities. Recent reports of the loss of life of one young person points to escalating violence which must cease immediately. We condemn and call on all Guyanese to condemn and refrain from all racial and ethnic slurs and actions, to respect the rule of law and keep the peace. We call on all political parties to abstain from provocative statements, ensure that their supporters do not violate the fundamental rights of any citizen and keep all protest action free from any kind of violence or intimidation. We call on the police and security forces to protect the rights of all Guyanese and carry out their duties without bias in accordance with the law of Guyana.”

Invested in each other as one Caribbean family, we are also aware that the precedent set by one signals a risk to us all. In recognition of this, the Caribbean women’s movement and its allies, from at least seven countries, issued a statement echoing the words of these and other Guyanese women. The statement reads:

“We, Caribbean advocates for social justice and gender equality, join in solidarity with the people of Guyana in calling for compliance with the rule of law and specifically with the election procedure in Guyana. A damaged electoral process will negatively affect the likelihood of social cohesion in a country scarred by ethnic and political polarisation. The people of Guyana and indeed the Caribbean deserve better from political actors.

They deserve political leadership with integrity and that honours the collective will of the people. We particularly share our deep concern for the safety and security of all Guyanese and call for peace and calm in all communities. Not one more life should be lost.

We support the call of CARICOM for the lawful completion of the electoral process in Guyana by ensuring the tabulation of results in all regions using the Statements of Polls and the offer of the Chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, to personally assist with dialogue, if needed, once there is acceptance of the results of the lawfully declared elections.

All parties should do their part in ensuring an engagement that is transparent, accountable and which builds trust. Political parties should dialogue with civil society and build consensus on the way ahead. We call on the political leaders to issue a common call for peace, respect and community-mindedness, showing their concern for all people and their safety and well-being.”

No electoral win can be a victory when safety, harmony and dignity, however inessential these seem, immediately become threatened too.

As long-time Guyanese activist  Vanda Radzik wrote last week, “What we see unfolding before our eyes is the poison that emanates, in a heightened way, from the recurring contest between two forces – hell-bent on “winning” power – at the expense of our nation. Being drawn into foolish political, largely race-based camps, with hatred and fear stitched into the fabric – for winner and loser, alike – is a recipe for disaster. It has to be stopped in its tracks now.”

Watching how quickly abuse of power and process devolved into public confrontation in Guyana and noting that, in our Local Government election, there were complaints about insults and abuse from supporters of the major parties on Nomination day, we should not only wet our roof but avoid irresponsibly starting fires in the backyard of our own racial and political tensions.

Trinidad and Tobago’s major parties should therefore re-affirm commitment to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct for the upcoming general election. Meanwhile, we look on at Guyana’s election imbroglio and hope for peaceful resolution.

Post 159.

Representation is at the heart of democracy. It is reciprocity for the faith that people put into those chosen from among us to defend our needs, values and hopes, to speak out for the most excluded, and to protect the rules and institutions that stand between us and domination. It is about responsibility, but is also founded on true commitment to popular power and rights.

We desperately need to escape the two-party political culture entrenched by Eric Williams, and by political parties’ exploitation of race to win and hold power. Increasingly, instead of blind loyalty to an arrogant leader, we value trustworthiness, transparent talk and accountable rather than wasteful delivery. Our hopes are for more inclusion, whether that means the ability to afford a Sunday lunch with macaroni pie and baked chicken like so many other citizens, to secure welfare without having to trade your vote or to be able to rely on state agencies and officials to work effectively, with consideration and without a bribe.

Does the Partnership’s run-off election proposal advance representation that is accountable, transparent and inclusive? I can’t see how it does. The PNM was unapologetically corrupt through all its days of majority rule. The Partnership gained a vast national mandate and today the development of Invader’s Bay is shrouded in indefensible secrecy.

When our political parties are given sweeping popular support, they become more rather than less authoritarian. What has kept the PNM and the UNC in check is only ever the threat of additional parties splitting their vote cache, forcing them to appeal to a wider cross-section of voters, rather than forcing voters to misplace or withdraw their hopes. What we need is constitutional reform that encourages greater representation, not by the few, but by a wider array of those chosen from among us.

In a run-off election, do I vote for a PNM led by Keith Rowley? He thinks Dookeran should resign for expressing a different view from Cabinet colleagues, one that in this instance represented popular sentiment. He argued that calculating his own pension on his salary plus benefits, mathematics completely unavailable to ordinary workers anywhere in the country, was valid rather than elite hypocrisy. Without any necessary studies available for citizens to read, he’s ready to return to rapid rail and other mega projects, while the never-used Brian Lara Stadium in Toruba continues to cost us more than a billion dollars exactly for such reasons. The PNM rejects proposals for coalition politics as a dangerous dagger. It isn’t only about its politics of going it alone, the party’s position is based on cynical calculation that third party vote splitting will always work in its favour, and power is its goal. Great is the PNM, therefore the first-past-the-post system should prevail.

Do I vote for the UNC? This latest constitutional reform fiasco is another sign of how it will use its House majority to impose its rule. There was no popular call for a run-off election provision. No need to attach it to the two-term prime ministerial limit and set election date provisions. No need to rush passage. No need to stir such public distrust. Reforms that strengthen state watchdogs regarding corruption, procurement and campaign financing? Yes, push those through.

We do not need reforms that give more power to political parties, given what the PNM and UNC show they will do with parliamentary majorities. They leave us to defend democracy on the streets,  turn to courts to speak for those excluded, and tirelessly call for checks against our governments’ plans and deals. We resist precisely because representation remains our right and responsibility.