Mar 20, 2016 News
By Leonard Gildarie
At the time of writing on Friday evening, unofficial figures were indicating a worrisome scenario – less than 50 percent turnout at the first Local Government Elections in more than two decades.
I visited, as part of my duties, several polling stations in the Diamond and Grove area, on the East Bank of Demerara. It was the same story. Voters were trickling in slowly. It was a poor turnout. Those preliminary figures would contrast sharply with last year’s turnout for the May 2015 elections when it was 72 percent.
At several of the places on the East Bank of Demerara, at around 12:00 hrs, officials were reporting at around 30 percent turnout.
Whichever way the pundits analyse the official figures when they become available, there are a few things that can be deduced. The importance of local government and its importance in the entire structure of governance in Guyana have not taken root.
The US, UK, Canada and European Union (EU) missions here have been pushing heavily for elections. It was a major issue in the lead-up to the last elections.
Local Government Elections were delayed since the mid-1990s after an agreement was reached between the then Government and Opposition to have reforms.
For various reasons, the reformation process and new legislation faced numerous delays with key legislation only passed last year.
Last year also, the new David Granger-led Government insisted on handing more power to elected local government officials. It was the intention to create what is called cohesive communities with more autonomy for the officials.
What I found interesting and in keeping with what prevails in developed countries, was the idea that these officials would have been left with the authority to make major decisions, like for projects, and maybe new ways to raise revenues. It would have taken away the dependence of NDCs and Town Councils on Central Government for money. At least that is my understanding.
It all sounds ambitious on paper, with the potential of being a game-changer on how Guyana does its business across the country.
The problem is that citizens did not fully understand the implications of not voting.
Was it poor voter education? Was Guyana tired after last year’s grueling early general elections which handed the coalition victory of a mere 4,506 votes?
The apathy shown by voters should be a wake-up call for both Government and the Opposition. I have said it before and will say it again. The majority of the voters – I am being told about 60 percent- are under 35 years. Many of them will tell you that they don’t care about Forbes Burnham or Cheddi Jagan.
I have travelled across the country, engaging citizens from all walks of life. People are interested in jobs, homes, cars, good roads, less crime and better schools. The rice farmer will complain about poor drainage and irrigation, and point fingers at a well-connected farmer who is selfishly blocking waterways to benefit his lands, at the expense of his neighbours.
So yes, what we saw Friday should be a lesson. For me, people are tired and don’t care.
We need to change that feeling. This country is ours.
GECOM had disclosed before last Friday’s polls that more than 150 constituencies were without opposition candidates. We have to find ways to create more interest in our communities, in the decisions made by our leaders. Many of the old guard will return. There must be changes, especially in the running of our city and towns. Issues like garbage and drainage and zoning will all have to be given priority.
I think citizens will have to prepare for an across-the-board increase in rates and taxes. Money will be hard to come by, and NDCs and Town Councils will have to find the resources from somewhere in their new dispensation to run the communities in their charge.
All in all, I do believe that one valuable lesson can be learnt from May 11, 2015 and March 18th, 2016—don’t ever underestimate or take the voting public for granted.
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