Local government elections are being held for the first time in over twenty-two years. Yet there seems a lack of excitement about these elections and this lack of interest was best exemplified this past week by the poor turnout of voters from the police, the army, the prison service and the fire service.
The low voter turnout of the Disciplined Forces for local government elections should not come as a surprise. This was predictable considering the confusion that exists over these elections.
People simply do not understand enough the system that is being used in the elections. They are seeing the ballot paper divided into two sections but they have not yet fully grasped the nature of the system that is being used.
A second and major problem is the fact that many people do not know just who they should be voting for. They do not know who is standing in their area. This is particularly true for the independent candidates.
A third problem is that some constituencies are too large. Take for example in Georgetown. There is one constituency covering Kingston, Thomas Lands, Alberttown and Queenstown. This makes a farce of the system of direct representation.
How can someone in Kingston, represent someone in Alberttown and Queenstown? This problem is replicated throughout the country. It makes a mockery of the need to have persons who are known and close to their constituents.
Georgetown was designed as a system of wards. These wards are natural formations. Each ward should have constituted a constituency. Persons are being nominated to represent areas in which the people do not know them, do not care to know them and will never get to fully know them.
These problems had been foreseen by the People’s Progressive Party. They were reluctant to hold local government elections for the same reason. They had said that there needs to be a detailed and extended system of voter education before they would have agreed to local government elections.
Most people thought that the PPP was simply making an excuse to avoid holding the elections. And perhaps they were making an excuse.
Perhaps the PPP was indeed afraid that if they underperformed at local government elections, the then opposition would have forced snap elections and would have defeated the PPP. But the excuse given was a valid excuse.
There was a system of public education launched. But that system has concentrated on informing the public as to what the two parts of the ballot paper are about and the importance of local government elections.
The big shortcoming was about informing the public as to the boundaries of the constituencies. The people in Alberttown and Queenstown, for example, are voting for persons who in most instances live outside of their area.
In other words what is likely to happen is that people are going to vote once again along party lines rather than being able to identify with a representative whom they know.
The independent groups are being shortchanged. They do not have the resources to make their candidates known. Some of them have been using social media and the Stabroek News has been trying to give some coverage but these independent groups cannot all afford to hold rallies and to go on a massive PR blitz as the major parties are doing.
The smaller groups are disadvantaged.
In the 1994 local government elections, the PNC, smarting from their defeat in 1992 at the general and regional elections had actually formed independent groups in many areas. The PNC recognized the damage that their twenty-eight-year rule had done to the image of their party and were seeking to reinvent itself by moving towards these new groups.
It did work in many areas because people saw these groups as PNC groups.
This is not the case this time around. The independent groups are not satellites of the main parties. They are independent parties seeking to be engaged politically but they do not have the financial resources to get their message across.
Consideration should have been given to providing media coverage for these persons or some form of financial assistance to them.
The real fear now is that with the low voter turnout of the Disciplined Services that the elections will again turn out to be a two-party race. That would be a tragedy and a travesty.
The Americans will be disappointed if this happens. Their agenda is to break ethnic voting in Guyana by encouraging a system of political pluralism whereby there are many parties and many local groups contesting elections.
Guyana is not ready for these local government elections. The PPP has been proven right again and this time for the wrong reasons.
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