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Guyana: the western hemisphere's poorest country.

GUYANESE from all walks of life are demanding political change. The 1989 and 1990 budgets of the ruling Peoples National Congress (PNC) have totally demoralised the labouring masses and undermined the economic stability of the business community.

Massive migration of labour and capital only add to the agony. The debt burden, food insecurity and unemployment are nightmares that keep Guyanese awake and horrified. The disappointment is dramatised by the massive attendance at public meetings of the political opposition.

The 1989 six-week budget strike has demonstrated a strong national solidarity irrespective of race, industry, occupation, class, location, age, sex and religion. Action on the home front has attracted external support. US Senator Edward Kennedy and several other senators and congressmen have added voices of support for the restoration of democracy in Guyana.

At the 1990 University of Guyana graduation ceremony Sir Shridath Ramphal (Secretary-General of the Commonwealth) supported the call for free and fair elections in Guyana. Guyanese abroad are anxious for free and fair elections at home. Many skilled personnel and businessmen pledge to return home and contribute to nation building when the political situation is rectified. They are committed to assist in the struggle for democracy. Former US President, Jimmy Carter, represents the eighteen-member Council of Freely Elected Governments. The Carter Centre contributed to the process of free and fair elections in Nicaragua.

In response to the external pressures and internal agitation President Desmond Hoyte has made three concessions which if implemented will result in free and fair elections. These concessions are a reformed Elections Commission, the compilation of a fair voters list and immediate count of the ballots at the place of the poll.

Brigadier Joe Singh has pledged that, under his command, the military forces will be ordered to conform to a professional role and behave in conformity with the constitution. This seems to suggest that the ballot boxes will not be seized at gun point and opposition agents will not be brutalized as in the previous elections.

The goodwill from the US and the militancy among the Guyanese people are boosted by a strong voice from Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders. The Caribbean peoples are ahead, for they lend active solidarity to the oppressed people of Guyana. The leaders in the Caribbean are known for their frequent agitation for democracy in Haiti. With equal intensity they seem to be turning their attention to Guyana.

Latin American people are also gradually beginning to support the struggle for free and fair elections in Guyana. The Carter Centre mission of 1991 was led by a Latin-American, the Hon. Rodrigo Cerazo, who is a former president of Costa Rica. Democracy and development are two sides of the same coin. Guyana, only two and half decades ago was seen as the bread basket of the Caribbean. Under the PNC, Guyana has been reduced to the begging bowl of the Western Hemisphere. The McIntyre report confirms that Guyana now ranks below Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

For Guyana to be an asset to the region, the people must have a government that is accountable to the, a government they can elect and recall. This fact has been recognised and hence support is being given to the realisation of democracy. However, there is a body of opinion that disagrees with the optimists.

|Free and Fair Elections Now' is a popular chant at opposition political meetings in Guyana, for it is common knowledge that all previous post-independence national elections (1968, 1973, 1980, 1985) were systematically rigged, as was the 1978 Referendum.

The People's National Congress (PNC) system of domination stands unique in the Caribbean Commonwealth and on the South American continent. It is now the only authoritarian government in that part of the world. National elections are now due in Guyana sometime in 1992.

Many are of the opinion that, even in the face of external pressures and internal agitation for political change, the PNC will not be removed from political office by this election. This pessimistic view is premised on certain rational arguments, some of which I will now outline.

Dr. Ralph Predas posited the Guyana is a multi-racial society, characterised by fragmentation along racial lines. Each race established voluntary associations to champion their respective causes. At the level of mass politics, the East Indians supported the People's Progressive Party (PPP) headed by Cheddi Jagan, an Indian, and the Africans supported the PNC headed then by Forbes Burnham, an African.

The PNC seized power in 1968, which then created an Afro-middle class elite in the military, para-military, trade unions, intelligensia, civil service, youth and state sectors that are loyal to it. This elite can be and was mobilised in the past to perpetrate fraud by force so as to steal national elections.

Free and fair elections would upset this elite. Political change, when translated for them, will mean the popular call for public acountability, leading to legal proceedings and retribution and ultimately humiliation. They will not want to be subjected to such punishment.

To avoid this, they will employ, what the one time PNC chief propagandist, Mr. Festus Brotherston Jr., called their |specialised secret group' of riggers, and let loose what the PNC's President Desmond Hoyle refers to as their |dogs of war' on the election day.
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Author:Christopher, Ian
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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