Former AEC General Secretary Rev Mike James reflects on the political impasse in his homeland, Guyana. This is an edited version of the Catholic Standard editorial, July 17 issue.
“When will this frightening, worsening crisis end?” people ask themselves. In most countries around the world today, this question will be asked with respect to COVID-19, with Latin America and the Caribbean having now overtaken North America as the region of the world where the virus is most rapidly spreading.
But in Guyana today the question of when the worsening crisis will end is far more likely to be asked by people (apart from families directly affected by COVID-19) with respect to the current election results crisis now nearing five months since Guyanese voted peacefully and orderly on March 2.
Is it not true that all Guyanese in their hearts know who has won the elections? Should the country not wake up to reality, get the process over and swear in the elected President so that the country can begin to address the truly serious issues?
Issues like building national, interracial unity; the long pending issue of developing a political system that replaces that of concentrated power in a single person by one that ensures broad participation in governance and an end to ‘winner takes all’ politics.
Issues like giving genuine priority to battling COVID-19 and protecting the most vulnerable of all races who are suffering cruel hardships and worsening poverty due to the suspension of economic and social activities. That truly urgent list of genuine priorities goes on.
Even die-hard supporters of the current President, lying down in frustration in front of State House and pleading for audience, cannot bear the seeming endless, useless waiting. Should their leader not be immediately sworn in as the new President so that people can begin to get back to living their ordinary lives? How long will the circus of postponed GECOM meetings, court injunctions, rulings and appeals be allowed to continue? Is not any quick solution, like it or not, better than no solution, and worse, no prospect of solution?
On the other hand, there is a tiny minority, quietly urging patience, and active patience with the process. They have been waiting peacefully and hopefully for almost five months while all the legal constitutional issues are being addressed, from the opinions of ordinary persons in the street and in their homes, right up to the highest legal forum for Guyana, the Caribbean Court of Justice.
That minority is willing to wait another couple months, if necessary, for a new birth of democracy and justice to be recognised and acknowledged regarding the elections, not just by those who supported the winner but by those who did not.
Confrontation, even vigorous confrontation in the courts, is immeasurably better than confrontation and violence on the streets. As outgoing chairperson of CARICOM, and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley has repeatedly urged, one violent death in an election campaign is far too many.
Guyana already holds the unofficial yet unquestionable record of the longest delay in official declaration of national election results. But the longer the delay the more the world’s attention and solidarity will come to bear for a genuine reaffirmation in Guyana of the right of people to choose their leaders freely and fairly.
The Guyana election result is now on the agenda of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, and heading inevitably for the Security Council of the United Nations and the European Union, as well as the Commonwealth and Caricom where it is already a permanent priority. Justice will prevail. Guyana will become a model for peaceful and exemplary ACTIVE PATIENT resolution of divisions in multi-ethnic societies.
Is there a role for the ordinary citizen in the process?
On July 14 we commemorated the death of Fr Bernard Darke who died in the hot noon sunlight of Brickdam 41 years ago seeking to simply record the truth with his camera. Bishop Lafont of neighbouring Cayenne honours him as a modern-day martyr, gives us an answer from a person with a simple hobby for photography: “As people of faith, we know that it is not the quantity of actions for justice that is relevant, but rather the quality of our commitment in the struggle for justice. Perhaps that single action of Fr Darke with his camera posed a greater threat to those who refuse to respect the rights of others rather than daily demonstrations in the streets.”