Local Government Elections (commonly and hereinafter referred to as LGE) are practically upon Guyana. Eighty elections will be held in the aforementioned number of Local Authority Areas across the country. One would assume that LGE and matters of governance at any level would be important to Guyanese. But is this really the case?
The reported figures for 2016 and 2018 so far tell another story. Some very telling figures were published in 5 November, 2018 edition of the Stabroek News in an article titled “Voter education no guarantee of turnout”.
According to the Publication in 2016, 55.6% of disciplined services members voted. At the 18 March 2016 elections 47.1% of eligible voters turned out. In Linden the turnout was 35.15% of registered electors. Georgetown’s turnout was 37.66% of registered electors. The highest turnout of the 2016 LGE was in Mabaruma with a 58.44% turnout of registered electors.
The 2018 figures from the Disciplined Services vote on 2 November 2018 were 39.7% of registered electors according the Demerara Waves article published on 4 November 2018 bearing the title, “39.7 percent of Disciplined Services Voted in Local Government Elections; mixed reactions from parties”.
The sums spent on LGE in light of the turnout raise the question of the value of the process to Guyanese. In a Demerara Waves article, “Finance Minister reluctant to give GECOM more money for LGE; says Agency must use leftovers” published on 20 July 2018, it is asserted that the LGE in 2016 cost $1.5 Billion.
The 2018 budget for LGE is $1.2 Billion according to a DPI article of 20 July 2018 bearing the title “GECOM’s budget for LGE $1.2 Billion”.
It appears, at least at face value, that Guyanese lack interest in LGE and the system of Local Government (hereinafter referred to as LG). I believe that the reason can be boiled down to one word – Community. To be specific the lack thereof.
The definition of Community that may be generally accepted as relevant to LGE is a geographic area and the individuals that live therein. However, if we look at the Latin root word Communitas we find an enlightening definition. That being, public spirit, a sense of duty and willingness to serve one’s community.
It is not uncommon to hear sentiments such as, “Me ain’t know which constituency I voting in or even the candidates for the constituency.” or “Me ain’t never see no candidate for me area around the place only one one posters”, or better yet “Why I voting and Local Government system not doing anything for the area. I can’t remember the last time the gutters cleaned.”
It appears to me, thus far, for reasons I will elaborate below that the majority of eligible voters in the Local Authority areas lack a sense of duty and willingness to serve their communities, by caring enough to learn about LGE and LG or exercising their franchise.
The first factor that is responsible for this lack of community is General Lethargy about the political system. Race-based not issue-based politics turns off many progressively minded electors from getting involved either as voters or candidates.
The fact that many areas have not seen substantial improvements promised by the restoration of LG, and the scandals that have rocked the LG system since 2016 have not helped people’s willingness to get involved.
The second factor is the Social Stratification that is prevalent in most of the “developed” areas of Guyana. This can be seen in most of the “well to do areas”. In these areas people don’t communicate; some people have never even seen their neighbours. If they have ever gathered around for a common cause I would truly be shocked. In such circumstances how can there be a sense of community? You can’t care or have duty for those you don’t know exist.
There is a far greater sense of community, togetherness in what would be considered “ghetto” communities in the towns and cities, rural and hinterland areas. In these areas people actually talk, congregate, and work together for common goals making it easier for people to feel a sense of duty for those they live among.
Penultimately, self-absorption has infected many in our society. This is particularly prevalent in the youth demographic. The social media generation and those afflicted by the “me, me, me” syndrome only care about themselves and what occurs in the digital world. This is not to say that they don’t take up admirable causes or achieve success.
However, they seem not to be capable of organization and team work or so it appears. In this generation everyone wants to be the leader, no one wants to be a follower. A good example is what happened to Blue Caps and its leader.
Finally, the fault lies with the parties and the candidates. The candidates for the most part are not on the ground. The parties are not doing enough to educate the public because they are relying on the party symbol to get them through LGE. I have listened closely at several meetings held by all three parties and I hear a lot of general political rhetoric but not much else.
The fact is when people don’t understand the importance of a thing. It is up to those who do understand to make people feel enthusiastic and hopeful, to show that thing’s importance. This can’t be done from behind a screen or through an advertisement it must be done by meeting people face to face.
The Future of LG and LGE?
I believe with some changes the current form of LG and LGE could be considerably more relevant to Guyanese. Building a sense of community and duty towards people will require drastic advocacy but it must be fueled by the people themselves. If the system was more person and voluntary group oriented without major political parties, that would be a good start.
I personally think the parties that contest national elections should stay out of the race. The reason being that LG is the perfect opportunity to try and create new leaders who may one day be able to form new parties which may contest national elections.
If such a thing was allowed to happen local democracy may actually start to bloom. Truly new, not recycled, politicians and political parties will appear for the first time in years. It is obvious that the parties will continue to contest LGE. The value to the parties to gauge their popularity is far too useful to them. But even if the parties can’t be barred from running if they took the party symbols off the ballot the elections would be very different.
I truly hope that the voter turnout on 12 November 2018 proves me wrong and the turnout is far greater than 2016 LGE. But in any event we shall soon know the outcome and LGE’s relevance or lack thereof to the people of Guyana.
Desmond G. Public
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