It is a problem of democracy and ignorance, not fear
As general elections in Guyana draw close, all kinds of fears and anxieties grip the population, the kind of fears and anxieties accompanied by violence that have characterized our nation at election times for the past half century.
Only a few impractical idealists would deny that there exists in Guyana a state of impasse and political quagmire deeply imbedded, not necessarily in racism, but in racial politicking. There are some who, while recognising that such a situation exists, for selfish or myopic reasons would prefer the status quo to remain.
But there are also several thinkers, who have recognised that such a situation exists, and have a genuine interest in seeing our beloved country lifted out of this mess, have posited worthwhile theories and ideas. Many also have (again, with genuine intentions) offered piecemeal recommendations that only address some of the symptoms of the problem, but not the problem itself. For instance, Khemraj Ramjattan’s recent appeal to Indians not to fear Afro-Guyanese, does not address the real origin of that fear, nor the reason why that fear is perpetuated. Similarly many Afro-Guyanese thinkers perceive a fear of domination by Indo-Guyanese, and have come up with such suggestions as shared government – a plaster solution.
Many others have, without any empirical evidence, un-academically concluded that because Indo-Guyanese vote predominantly for the PPP, they vote racially, ignoring the fact that generally speaking, all Guyanese vote racially because of racial politicking and a fear and distrust created in their minds at election time.
I would like to borrow from the general ideas of some of these thinkers: David Hinds, Walter Rodney, Eusi Kwayana, Ravi Dev, Fred Kissoon, Malcolm Harripaul (to name a few), and synthesize my own hypothesis, and in so doing, derive a set of recommendations to address the problems that I identify.
My primary hypothesis is (I have to agree) that there is not currently a democratic system of government in Guyana. I would like to contend that the fears of Ramjattan, Afro-Guyanese, et al, are rooted in a prevailing undemocratic system of government in
Guyana, and until democracy is restored in its fullest meaning, such fears, instability, destabilization and violence will continue to tarnish our history. I would further contend that Indo-Guyanese vote predominantly for the PPP, not because they vote racially, but because they vote for the democratic principles that Cheddi Jagan stood for; and until they are educated that the present PPP has vastly deviated from these principles, they will continue to vote PPP.
And further, until all Guyanese of all races are educated to understand what democracy is and how it works, they will continue to be swayed by racial politicking rather than by intellectual appeal, and they will continue to vote subjectively.
Democracy is a system that is born, and it grows and grows, and though it reaches maturity, it never stops growing. Democracy, which was restored in 1992, was stifled in its infancy when Cheddi Jagan died and his party degenerated into a sophisticated form of oligarchy.
Our first duty, therefore, as fervent believers in democracy is to educate the masses, much of whom are still faithful to the ideal of Cheddi Jagan, and expose this oligarchy; and convince them that the present PPP is no longer the party that Jagan built.
We have to educate them to understand that the institution of democracy, like a little house, basically rests on four pillars, and when anyone of these pillars is removed or is unstable, the house falls.
Education is a vital component of any society, but especially of a democracy. Democracy cannot work if the people are not educated. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never shall be”.
There is a direct connection between education and democratic values: in democratic societies, educational content and practice support habits of democratic governance. This educational transmission process is vital in a democracy because effective democracies are dynamic, evolving forms of government that demand independent thinking by the citizenry. The opportunity for positive social and political change rests in citizens’ hands.
In a Representative Democracy that Guyana is supposed to be, the first and foremost pillar is periodic elections whereby the citizens choose the leaders to represent them at the local, regional and national levels. In Guyana we choose a party which in turn forces us to accept a bunch of people to represent us at local, regional and national levels. Unfortunately, most of these people foisted upon us are misfits and do not meet the minimum moral standards we would like to see in them. The fact that citizens are denied the right to choose individual representatives, irrespective of party affiliation for local, regional and national positions, is a travesty of democratic principles.
The fact also that there is no local government and municipal elections is tantamount to a denial of citizens to freely, fairly and periodically choose their representatives.
But in the first place, one should ask if the representative system of democracy is suitable for a small population as Guyana’s. Representative Democracy does not work well in small populations just as Direct Democracy does not work well in large populations. Some might even argue that there is no such thing as Representative Democracy; it is a paradox, as a vast majority of countries that call themselves Representative Democracies are not true democracies in the true definition of democracy. Democracy by definition means government by the people. That means that all the people should be able to have their say in one way or another in everything that affects their lives Most of the governments that call themselves Representative Democracies are actually just Elected Dictatorships or sophisticated oligarchies.
People can vote usually only once every four or five years. They do not vote on any issues. They just elect their so called representatives who then until the next elections have no obligations by law and little incentives to base their decisions on individual issues on the wishes on their electorate.
They hardly ever bother to consult them on their stands on various issues. Therefore, legislative bodies composed of such “representatives” act in a very dictatorial manner between the elections. And the extent to which they exercise their high-handed manner or “representation” will stigmatize then as Elected Dictatorships.
Does this sound like the PPP? And if they argue that they inherited a constitution in which this system was entrenched, they had nearly two decades to change this decadent system, and their reluctance to do so rightly give cause to some writers to call them an Elected Dictatorship.
True democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralize government to regional and local levels, understanding that all levels of government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible.
In a small population as Guyana, to have more effective representation and participation in government, and to make elections a more meaningful process of democracy, we should utilize a mixture of both the direct and representative forms of choosing our leaders. We could even place propositions and referenda – mandated changes of law – or possible recall of elected officials on ballots at elections, as is done in some U.S. states. These practices are forms of direct democracy, expressing the will of a large population. Many practices may have elements of direct democracy. In Switzerland, many important political decisions on issues, including public health, energy, and employment, are subject to a vote by the country’s citizens. And some might argue that the Internet is creating new forms of direct democracy, as it empowers political groups to raise awareness and support for their causes by appealing directly to like-minded citizens.
But true democracies can only work when the population not only have access to government, but is well educated and willing to participate in government. It is the primary duty of political parties and interest groups to educate the population and motivate them to participate. In the old days the bottom-house form of educating the people was well utilized by Jagan, Burnham and Rodney. Today, these groups, not only should return to this method, but should also make maximum use of the electronic media.
Mr. Editor, I have truly exceeded my hour on the stage, and have not yet dealt with the other three pillars of the house of democracy. I would like to continue in a subsequent letter. But for now, I believe I have established that elections do not work well as a democratic principle in Guyana, although the government swears by it as true democracy. I have also established that for democracy to work, the population must be educated, not indoctrinated, or coerced through race, religion or creed as has definitely been the practice in Guyana for nearly half a century.
Knowledge dispels fears and anxieties; people apply objectivity instead of racism in voting. Indeed, some countries that do not have elections, Cuba in particular, certainly have a more democratic process at the local and regional levels than Guyana.
Elections therefore might not be a necessary pre-requisite for democracy. Philosophically speaking, perhaps there is no such thing as democracy. In the US, for instance, the bastion of democracy, democracy means voting for one capitalist party or another.
What all this basically leads to is a re-examination of the constitution and changes to it to suit the will of the people. Only then can elections inaugurate or give birth to democracy. The other three principles (which I hope to explain in my next letter) must also hold for it to sustain.