1961 By-Election was “justifiably” not held
In response to my riposte (KN Sep 11), Mr. Hamilton Green asked me “to recite verifiable incidents” (KN Sep 13) regarding the election of 1961 and the alleged rigging of the PNC internal election of last July. Mr. Green said he can vouch that last July executive election was the freest and fairest the PNC ever conducted – Yes Hammie said so and you should believe him.
Many individuals I spoke with said that they were deeply troubled with the conduct of the July election and the fairness of the balloting that impacted on Carl Greenidge’s chance of winning the leadership. In addition, Prof. Kean Gibson (SN) and Abu Bakr (KN), two of the staunchest supporters of the PNC, made references to troubling electoral improprieties of that election.
Regardless of their honesty and credibility or lack thereof, the PNC internal elections of 2011 and 2012 have nothing to do with the 1961 Houston election. Mr. Green contended that “as a result of improper activities by the leadership of the PPP at the 1961 elections, the PNC brought six elections petitions … and a by-election was not held in Houston”.
He did not offer any supporting evidence of who in the PPP leadership were (was) involved in improprieties and what these were. Any impropriety in the 1961 election cannot be used as justification to rig elections between 1964 and 1992 or any PNC internal election.
Many senior citizens and PPP stalwarts of the era described the 1961 election as the last truly free and fair election held in Guyana – party, local or general. People do recall that the 1962 PPP executive election was fixed to defeat Balram Singh Rai and that was a stain on PPP’s democratic credentials.
Green was very misleading in his comment on the 1961 election. I was able to obtain the following information based on thorough research on the Election:
There was an Independent Election Commission and Commissioner of Elections, a Chief Electoral Officer, 35 Returning Officers and several Presiding Officers who were responsible for administration, and management and operation of the elections on Election Day in the 35 electoral districts in the country. The entire operation was overseen by a British Colonial Administration; fraud was virtually impossible. The Commissioner of Elections Mr. G.K. Waddell, was a respected UK Civil Servant who was a specialist in electoral matters and would not condone fraud.
The Chief Electoral Officer Mr. Edgar Jack, was a senior career officer in the British Guiana Civil Service. He was the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages with zero tolerance for fraud. He was no Sir Bollers. Many of the Returning Officers as well as the Presiding Officers were civil servants or teachers some of whom were retirees – people of impeccable integrity.
The general consensus and perception adjudged the elections as free and fair and free from fear – the last in Guyana until 1992.
Houston was Electoral District No. 23 (of 35) which had 19 polling stations with 8,053 voters. Of this number, 7,425 electors cast their ballots. There were three candidates – A. A. Critchlow (UF), H.Green (PNC) and G.M. Henry (PPP). Critchlow received 435 votes, Green 3,253 and Henry 3,701 with 36 rejected ballots. The difference between Green and Henry was 448. Henry was declared the elected rep. There were 6 election petitions after the results of the general election were declared. Five of the petitions were dismissed while Green’s petition was upheld.
Green challenged the election of Henry on three grounds, one of which was abandoned as a single alleged corrupt practice could not satisfy the requirements on which the ground was based. The other two grounds were considered by Mr. Justice H. A. Fraser in hearings that began on 20 November and concluded on 24 November 1961.
The main grounds were i) 13 persons under the age of 21 years voted and ii) Mr. Henry’s agent Mr. Ashton Chase procured one Sookhoo to impersonate a voter named Mohamed Yusuf.
On November 27, Justice Fraser made his ruling declaring the election of Henry void even though the number of complaints would not have altered the outcome if all the challenged votes were added to Green – a strange ruling but showed how tough the judges were of that period regarding electoral matters.
A by-election was not held any time between December 1961 and August 1964 when parliament was dissolved with the main reason being potential fraud orchestrated by opposition forces. Also, several major events prevented the holding of a by-election: politically directed strikes, Kaldor Budget, opposition rallies, race riots, political instability fomented by the PNC and UF, removal of B.S Rai as Home Affairs Minister and his expulsion from the PPP, death of Rai’s replacement Minister Claude Christian, resignation of Janet Jagan who succeeded Christian, CIA activities and the PNC conspiracy with the British and Americans, etc.
One need also to be reminded that there was i) the British Guiana Independence Conference in November 1962, the British Guiana Conference in November 1963 and the Duncan Sandys 1964 negotiated agreement with Burnham (PNC), D”Aguiar (UF) and Jagan (PPP) that led Her Majesty’s Government in London to stipulate PR in the electoral culture of the country.
Forbes Burnham did not press for a by-election because even if the PNC had won the seat it would not affect the governance of the colony because the PPP had enjoyed a five-seat majority. Burnham wanted a new election and the replacement of the PPP by the PNC not an extra seat. And Green seems to have forgotten that as a result of opposition fomented instability between 1962 and 1964, Governor Governor Sir Richard Luyt assumed emergency powers making an election impossible.
It was wrong not to have a by-election. But there were justifiable reasons for the election not being held and those who planned and organized instability against the government and who voter padded are the true culprits of preventing the by-election. It was well known who was the main architect of voter padding and electoral riggings in Guyana and who was opposed to Desmond Hoyte returning the country to democratic elections – calling him a school boy politician for agreeing to hold a democratic election and for handing over power to Dr. Jagan.
Green was not nice at all to Hoyte at a lecture in Jamaica right after the PNC defeat saying Hoyte should never have agreed to Carter’s formula for free and fair election.