As expected, there was a poor voter turnout at this year’s ‘historic’ Local Government Elections, despite the arrogance shown by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) when it continually ignored the concerns raised by key civil society voices and the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
The voter turn was between 38 and 39 per cent.
To add insult to injury, the Commission’s Chairman-for-life, Dr Steve Surujbally, had the nerve to tell the public that the entity would not take the blame for the poor showing of voters as it was not “running for anything”.
He went on to say that the responsibility for getting voters to participate in the democratic process was that of political parties and those running.
If one was to take Surujbally’s position to its logical end, then GECOM should not be given millions of dollars of tax payer’s monies to spend on its Voter Education Programme, which was piss poor for the recently held General and Regional Elections in May, and was worse this time around for LGE.
Also, the money budgeted and approved by the National Assembly for this purpose should be split equally among parties and candidates contesting the General and Local Government Elections, with the smallest portion going to the Commission, if this is the view of GECOM’s Chairman.
The truth is, GECOM failed miserable in executing a massive, in-depth and simple voter’s education project. No excuse will suffice because the political parties did as much as they could to energise and encourage these supporters to be part of the process by engaging in potent political debates, launching manifestos and working the ground to enlist support at the polls.
This is, but, one aspect of the entire voter education process.
After 22 years of not having these elections, one would have thought that more emphasis would have been placed on rolling out regional campaigns specifically designed to appeal to the local characteristics of the electorate there.
GECOM hardly provided Guyanese with well-organised, publicised community meetings and discussion forums as well as good modern social media interface projects that left no stone unturned to ensure they knew what was at stake.
Also, most of its messages targeted the mass media audiences (newspaper and broadcast) and ignored the fact that social media and networking sites (facebook, instagram, Whatsapp) are the fastest modern platforms used to simply complex messages and communicate effectively with people between the ages of 15 and 45.
That aside, it was clear that on election day, Guyanese in general, did not understand how to vote or what would be the impact of them staying away from the polls.
As a result, many of them became complacent because they did not see the rationale behind ‘killing’ themselves to vote if the status quos of their communities will remain the same as ultimately central government has the final say and the power over the public purse.
So, the publicity stunt pulled by President David Granger and his Ministers on Saturday by calling media people to boast about his Government’s accomplishment of returning local democracy to the people and LGE will not work.
A closer analysis of the situation would prove that the Government interfered significantly in the process so that they could have total control from bottom up (local, regional, central) by supporting community representatives that would put Government’s interest in front of the residents’ interest. This is politics.
Granger’s Government has made a mockery of local democracy in this way and should have stayed out of the polls as it already enjoys the seat of central Government. It should emulate Desmond Hoyte’s example.
Also, the manner in which the few thousands cast their ballots on Friday show that Guyana’s political system is ethnically divided and citizens are unwilling to support independent candidates unless they are endorsed by the AFC, APNU or PPP.
Somehow, the entire process on Friday appeared farcical and cosmetic. The President’s rush to take credit for the alleged return of local democracy also compounded this feeling coupled with the arrogance of GECOM’s top officials who were satisfied with the low voter turnout among other things.
Incidentally, Guyanese do not want a President who is good at speeches and diabolic ancient references but good in keeping his word and taking decisive action. President Granger could learn a lot from Tanzania’s new President.