Reference is made to a Peeping Tom comment about parties undemocratically selecting Presidential and Prime Ministerial candidates (Oct 19). Almost all of the political parties in Guyana have selected their Presidential candidate for the March 2 elections. But none of them followed or adopted a truly democratic process that empowers supporters, a power that is enjoyed by overseas-based Guyanese in much of the diaspora.
It is hypocritical and disingenuous for all the parties to expect and call upon Gecom to hold free, fair, and credible elections but not embrace the same within their own party. It is time to reform the process in which candidate for any office is selected – the party leadership should remove themselves from the process and assign that task to the voters in a free and fair election. A democratic selection leads to the best candidate and improves prospect for victory.
The United States held off-year elections last Tuesday November 5. (Some Guyanese came out to cast ballots. Guyanese have one of the lowest voter participation as a group based on my canvassing voluntary activities among and studies on them).
The candidates on the ballot on Tuesday were selected by their parties last June (moved up from September) in primary elections. In the US, all party candidates (in a general election) for any office must go through a nomination process a la a primary election.
Unlike in Guyana where candidates are nominated by a small group of individuals promoting their economic self-interest, in America the members of the party choose the nominee (candidate). Even the Presidential candidate (Trump or Biden or others) must go through a rigorous nomination process.
I long championed such a membership nomination process in Guyana but it has not been embraced by any party. (Even the newly formed minor parties have ignored the call). Surveys I conducted in Guyana going back some two decades have supported a nomination process that allowed party members to choose a candidate for office in a direct vote.
Party leaders in the US were initially resistant to any process that would empower voters in selecting candidates for office. But voters sought judicial intervention and applied pressure on their leaders. The primary process came about through the Progressive reform era and intervention of the court. The leaders used to select the nominees (candidates) for office; deals were made behind closed doors among the party elders and bribes passed (called Tammany Hall politics).
Through this flawed process, party elders financially enriched themselves. It was an undemocratic process that did not allow any role for the party members or supporters who were only corralled to elect the party nominee in the general election. The court intervened and put an end to that abusive, corrupt process. Voters were given the power to choose a party nominee for all offices.
The primary has become a part of the bill of rights of Americans although it is not written in the constitution. Voters can go to court if they feel their right to vote in a primary is affected or if a potential nominee is not on the ballot. A party dare not nominate a candidate unless there is a vetting process and participation by members in a primary.
Guyana needs a similar process to select candidates to run for office on a party line. A small coterie within a party should not be endowed with the power to choose nominees for an elected office. That power should be given to the party members and its supporters and not its leadership alone. And the leader should not influence or interfere with the process as has been the norm going back to the 1950s.
A primary will prevent a “clone” candidate from being the face and voice of a party. It also gives voice to and participation of members and supporters. People I conversed with unanimously support a primary.
In Guyana, there are many inherent ills in the leadership of a party choosing its nominee. Almost all of the parties have already selected their Presidential nominees and working on the PM nominee. (The constitution does not call for a Prime Ministerial nominee although de facto a PM is appointed after an election and becomes the successor in a Presidential vacancy).
None of them followed a truly democratic process in which the members gave assent to the selection of any candidate. Messrs Badal and Hinds, for example, selected themselves as Presidential and PM candidate respectively for the Change Party.
In 2006 when the AFC was formed, Messrs Ramjattan and Trotman agreed to rotate positions as President and PM in the AFC. A small group decided on Presidential and PM positions for Messrs Granger and Nagamootoo in 2015.
A small group of 35 decided who will be the Presidential nominee for the PPP and a much smaller group may yet choose its PM nominee. Mr. Bandhu was nominated as URP Presidential candidate. The other parties may well follow the same limited non-mass based participatory process.
The Central Committee or delegate selection process used by the parties is inherently flawed and undemocratic. How fair and democratic are these processes? When will all of these parties embrace reform and empower their supporters? The voters want a political voice in the nominating process. Which party is willing to give them a voice? The parties still have time to revisit how they selected candidates and restart the process.
It may very well be that the same nominees will be chosen. So why not give the voters a voice.
It is recalled that the founder/leader of all of the parties (in particular PNC and PPP) lambasted the White man for oppressing Guyanese and for being undemocratic and authoritarian calling them blood-sucking imperialists. Today, more Guyanese live abroad (in White man or imperialist countries) than in the homeland. The White countries give more democratic rights to Guyanese in the diaspora than what they experience in the homeland. Reviled as the leading imperialist and racist country, the US gives more democratic rights to Guyanese than their government in Guyana. Guyanese have the right to choose nominees for President and any office. No candidate is foisted (forced) upon them. Why can’t all of the Guyanese parties follow a democratic model as used in the US?
The US constitution does not mention parties or primaries. But these have become unwritten parts of the constitution and are enforced by the courts. Who will have the courage (which lawyers) to challenge the parties on their process of selecting nominees? Which lawyers have the fortitude to act in the interest of the voters or the nation at large?
It is time to take away the nomination process from self-seeking or corrupt individuals and give it to the population. A transparent process is needed in which all supporters (members) of a party have a chance to nominate a candidate – empower the voters to weed out bad or terrible, unelectable candidates and for them to rally behind a democratically elected nominee.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram (PhD)
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