We must decide if we should have dual citizenship including voting rights
Mr. Sasenarine Singh feels strongly and is furious that “non resident Guyanese” (NRG) might have the right to vote in Guyana which one letter writer suggests the constitution guarantees. (Non resident Guyanese should not have the right to Vote in Guyanese Elections, Kaieteur News February 19, 2010].
He argues “this irresponsible dialogue of what the constitution says and what the law says is at minimum adventurism and destructive….The principle is if you want to vote in Guyana then make that choice and live in Guyana”. That is those non resident Guyanese who live and work overseas do not deserve the right to vote in Guyana and also that citizens of other countries who live and work in Guyana should have the right to vote in Guyana.
The ease with which Mr. Singh will do way with discussions of Guyana’s constitution as “irresponsible” is, at minimum, frightening. And one of his suggestions is also confusing, in which he defends the right of “non resident Guyanese” to comment on Guyanese politics but at the same time trivialize, as irresponsible, their dialogue on what the constitution says.
Mr. Singh does not explicitly state which country is his new homeland but the information about places (New York) and politicians (Mayor Bloomberg) in his letter suggests he is a resident of the United States of America, and applying his principle, has no desire to vote in Guyana; “Sasenarine Singh who choose to live outside of Guyana… has lost the right to vote [there]”.
If I am correct, Mr. Singh has chosen to live in one of the most liberal countries in the world where its people have access to learned debates from all sides, all persuasions, and all types of sources including the Library of Congress, hundreds of universities and media of all types. It is a country which prides itself in the rule of law, its high standard of living, and its freedoms, which might have attracted Mr. Singh to that country. However, in my limited reading of American values I have yet to come across a single debate about the right of Americans to vote in an American presidential election if they lived and worked outside the US. It is unchallenged that if they lived and worked in Guyana, they could still have voted for Obama. Mr. Singh’s adopted homeland differs with him on this issue of voting. Her children are hers wherever they are. Even when they disown her (as renouncing their citizenship), their children are still her own. She welcomes them all with open arms; she does not fear them.
By and large, Americans are Americans wherever they are. Mr. Singh feels that Guyanese if they live and work outside of Guyana are what he terms “non resident Guyanese” and should have no voting rights in Guyana. I am yet to hear or read of
Americans using the term, “non resident American” to refer to an American living outside the U.S.
However, If Mr. Singh applies his principles to the government minister, who he says is an American and who lives and works in Guyana, the minister will lose his right to vote in American elections since he does not live and work there. I wonder how the minister feels about losing his right to vote in the U.S.
While the minister will loose his right to vote in the US, according to Mr. Singh’s principle he deserves the right to vote in Guyana since he lives and works in Guyana. However, under current Guyanese laws, the minister should not vote in Guyana since Guyana does not have dual citizenship with the U.S. Mr. Singh will also change Guyanese law to accommodate these individuals.
Similarly, Mr. Singh should support the view that Guyanese who are not U.S. citizens but who live and work in Richmond Hill, New York, should have been able to vote for Obama. Currently U.S. Federal laws prevent them from voting in federal elections even if they have lived and worked there most of their lives and have paid more federal taxes than some U.S. citizens. Will Mr. Singh also call for a change in U.S. law to permit them to vote in US elections?
While Mr. Singh’s principle does not permit “non resident Guyanese” to vote in Guyana’s election he will allow them to comment on issues concerning Guyana, as he does in his letter to this paper. He does not tell us the reason for the distinction but our gut feeling does tell us there is a distinction. However, on closer analysis the distinction seems more of form than substance. One of the major arguments for not permitting “non resident Guyanese” to vote in Guyana is they will not bear the consequences of their vote. But isn’t the “shadow voter” (the NRG) in the U.S. who whispers in the ear of his distant “cousin” in Guyana and tries to persuade him to vote a particular way is, at least, morally responsible for his advice. A well known quote warns us “words are mightier than the sword”; hate radio in Rwanda is a powerful example and reminder of the power of words.
While readers will defend the NRG’s right of freedom of speech, should not Mr. Singh, at a minimum, call upon the NRG to show self restraint in light of their moral responsibility to not disseminate their views in Guyana since those views may bring about changes which the NRG will not directly experience. Or is it acceptable for the NRG to be careless and reckless in their advice and be protected from its outcome by living in distant shores.
Why, then, take away the right of a NRG to vote but give them almost the same power by allowing them unlimited commentary on issues in Guyana. Is there really a major distinction?
However, a time should come when we in Guyana must debate and decide if we should have dual citizenship including voting rights as in many parts of the world, including our CARICOM sister states Barbados and Jamaica. Mr. Singh and others including a popular columnist have started the debate on overseas voting and while I have some problems with some of Mr. Singh’s arguments I will like to thank him and the popular columnist for raising the issue.