The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has advertised for monitors for General and Regional Elections. Persons interested are required to have a mere three CXC subjects. This suggests that this is really a non-technical form of monitoring. But just what is the ERC monitoring?
Election monitoring and observing are two different functions. Monitoring mainly relates to non-Election Day activities, such as the role of the media, and to the conduct of the political campaign. Observers, on the other hand, place greater emphasis on Election Day and post-Election Day activities. They make assessments of the freeness and fairness of this process.
The 2020 elections promise to be the most critical ever. And it has to do with oil, but not in the way most people presume. The PNCR and the PPPC and their supporters view these elections as a referendum on who will control Guyana’s oil wealth.
However, the critical nature of the elections is not about who will be in control of Guyana’s oil wealth, as much as it is about what will happen to this wealth. The elections will determine what type of regime the oil companies have to deal with – a dictatorship of a democratically-elected government.
Certain oil companies thrive in dealing with the former. They prefer to deal with illegitimate regimes because they know they can easily get the better of them
Guyana has been taken advantage of by the oil companies. The government entered into an arrangement with Exxon Mobil and its partners, and later with Tullow, which represent the most scandalous investment agreements ever in the history of oil deals.
But if you think those were terrible deals, wait and see what is likely to happen if, as many people suspect, the elections are rigged. Once this happens, the oil companies are going to take further advantage, because they would know that they are dealing with an undemocratic regime which lacks legitimacy.
Some multinationals prefer such regimes. And some of them love to bribe unelected despots and their cronies. The worst fate which can befall Guyana is not so much which regime will manage Guyana’s oil wealth, as it is about having to deal with oil companies under a dictatorship.
If next year’s elections are rigged – as is being predicted – the oil companies will have their way again with the government. Corruption will intensify, as it has done under dictatorships, and oil wealth will not filter down to the people, as has happened in Equatorial Guinea, Venezuela and in Nigeria.
The President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, has been in power for forty years, and has been consistently reelected by overwhelming majorities. In fact, the majorities are so large that he is considered a dictator. In the 2002 elections, he polled 103% of the votes in one area.
Oil companies have taken full advantage of his grip on power. They have exploited that country to the hilt. Equatorial Guinea is an oil-rich country which produces more than 400,000 barrels of oil per day, and which has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. Yet, more than half of its people live in poverty. Why? Because the oil companies, in collusion with an undemocratic government, are raping the resources of that country.
Nigeria has also been a victim of exploitation by oil companies. Oil companies have had a hand in that country’s ‘dirty’ politics. In 1995, environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was assassinated because of his struggle to stop the environmental destruction which was taking place in regions occupied by the minority Ogoni people.
Foreign oil companies entrenched themselves in Venezuela during the period of military dictatorship. Oil interests, backed by the United States of America, are behind the numerous attempts which are being made to undermine and topple the Maduro government.
The 2020 elections in Guyana are therefore more important in terms of ensuring that foreign vultures, not local hawks, are kept at bay. Free and fair elections are needed to save Guyana from these foreign predators who obtain favourable deals from dictatorship.
More important than who wins the election is the need for there to be a democratic government, because without such a government the oil companies will mercilessly rape Guyana.
Unless the forthcoming elections are free and fair, Guyanese will not benefit from oil and gas. The monies will be siphoned off by the political elite, since they would have succeeded in ensuring that they are not politically accountable to the people. The oil companies will take the biggest slice of the cake, because they will exploit their dealings with an illegitimate government. It has happened before in Guyana where the undemocratic PNC government signed sweetheart deals with investors.
There is therefore an urgency to ensure a strong observer presence at next year’s elections, but especially for there to be an observer in every polling station so as to prevent fraud and ensure the integrity of the ballot. This can only happen if local organizations committed to free and fair elections pool their resources and combine to have a massive local observer presence in every polling station.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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