STATEMENT ON THE POST-ELECTIONS DISTURBANCES IN GUYANA BY AMBASSADOR ODEEN ISHMAEL, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF GUYANA TO THE OAS, IN THE MEETING OF THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE OAS -- Washington DC, March 28, 2001.
Posted March 28th. 2001
I ask for the floor to update the Permanent Council on the current political situation in Guyana.
On Monday March 19, the people of Guyana went to the polls to vote in the third democratic presidential and parliamentary elections since our independence in 1966. For emphasis, the March 19 elections were the third to be held since October 1992. However, as occurred in the two previous elections of 1992, 1997, the country faces serious problems because there continue to exist political forces which cannot and would not accept the results of the democratic process, and are currently using non-legal measures to hold the elected government and the majority of the people to ransom.
For information purposes, I wish to state that the President Bharrat Jagdeo, with his party, the People's Progressive Party-Civic (PPP/C), was re-elected with 53 percent of the total votes. The main opposition party, the People's National Congress-Reform (PNC/R) and its candidate, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, obtained 42 percent of the votes. Nine other small parties garnered the remaining 5 percent. Roughly 90 percent of the electorate exercised the franchise on March 19.
As will be recalled, following the December 1997 elections, the main opposition party - which ruled the country from 1966 to 1992 -- refused to accept the results and challenged them in the courts. But after the Chief Justice ruled against that party, it mounted a series of street demonstrations, some of which became violent. Through the brokering of an agreement negotiated by CARICOM, the Government decided to reduce its five-year term by two years.
The current elections, as those of 1992 and 1997, were conducted by an independent Elections Commission. It was also witnessed by a number of international bodies, including the OAS, the Carter Center, CARICOM, the Commonwealth, the European Union. All of these named bodies have already issued statements that the elections were free and fair and that they reflected the will of the Guyanese people.
As a matter of interest, it must be noted that our Elections Commission is made up of a Chairman and six members. Three of them are representatives of the Government and the other three are representatives of the Opposition. The Chairman is nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. In the management of the March 19 elections, all decisions were arrived at unanimously by all the members of the Commission.
But despite their declaration of the results of the elections, the main opposition party, the PNC/R, almost like a repeat of 1997, filed a motion in the courts to prevent the swearing in of the President a few hours before the ceremony on Friday last. This is currently being heard before the Chief Justice of Guyana. Unfortunately, the hearings have been interrupted by loud noise from supporters of the main opposition party who gathered outside the premises of the court. These demonstrations are seen as an attempt to intimidate the work of the court. The Police have been forced to quell unruly demonstrations by this crowd by using tear gas and the firing of pellets, particularly after sections of it went on a rampage in the nearby streets and beat and robbed people two days ago.
The delay of the swearing-in of the President has caused an air of tension to pervade many parts of the country, especially the capital Georgetown. Such tension generates a fertile breeding ground for rumours which inject fear in the minds of the ordinary people. The spreading of hostile rumours is an effective and destructive form of "psychological terrorism". The delay also gives more opportunity to those bent on destabilizing the Government to carry out their terror tactics in various areas of the country.
Last Friday, some persons apparently dissatisfied over the results of the elections, blocked roads and vandalized public property but the police managed to restore order. Two days ago, a bridge on the main highway linking the capital Georgetown with the eastern part of the country was deliberately destroyed by fire.
On Saturday March 24, an opposition member on the Elections Commission, Mr. Haslyn Parris, who publicly declared that the results of the elections were accurate and could stand all scrutiny, was badly beaten up by his own party supporters at his party headquarters in Georgetown. Such action gives the impression that some forces in the opposition are not willing to accept the democratic decision of the people. The main Opposition party has since made a statement condemning the physical attack on the Election Commissioner.
We can only hope that good sense will prevail and that all political parties will display sensible leadership and responsibility so that a situation of peace and tranquility can be quickly restored.
The main Opposition party, the PNC-Reform, must represent its supporters by acting in a responsible manner and providing checks and balances to the Government through the parliamentary process. It must also participate in positive ways to work with the Government in developing programs which will be beneficial to its constituents.
President Jagdeo has already stated that he intends to have an inclusive new administration and is willing to work out modalities for the participation of the Opposition parties in the Government. It is hoped that the Opposition, particularly the main opposition party, will halt its attitude of confrontation and reach out to clasp the hand of friendship and inclusiveness offered by the President.
I now take this opportunity, on behalf of my Government, to urge the OAS, all its member states, and the international community as a whole, to support the democratic process in Guyana and to encourage all political parties to establish lines of cooperation which can surely assist in the growth of a healthy democratic culture in the country. At the same time this Organization and the international community must roundly condemn any act of intimidation or terrorism or violence that undermines the process of democracy in the country. None can afford to show indifference to our situation.
My country is a relatively new democracy and its freely-elected Government needs the solidarity of its fellow member-states of this hemisphere. Such solidarity will surely help to inspire confidence among the Guyanese people and will give them courage to continue to promote, build and defend democracy in our country.