The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has implemented a rapid response unit as part of efforts to fast track its response to any complaint of threats, harassment, racial and violent incitement during the elections period.
Chairman of the ERC, Rev. John Smith, spoke of the efforts to monitor the elections during a signing of the code of conduct for political parties yesterday.
While the ERC Chairman is heartened at the responses from the parties involved in the signing, Smith noted that internal reports compiled from monitoring public meetings and the traditional and nontraditional media, including Facebook, are major cause for concern.
Smith said that already the Commission has had cause to issue warnings to the two main political parties – APNU+AFC and PPP/C for racially charged rhetoric used during their campaigns. He said that the body is also monitoring the conduct of party agents and supporters on social media.
“With behaviour and utterances not helpful to the efforts of promoting harmony, we urge all to work towards eliminating such public displays through a more responsible approach, in an effort to ensure that the remaining period of the campaign is free of ethnic division, discrimination, hate speech, incitement and provocation.
“This must be extended throughout Election Day and beyond,” Smith urged.
He said in the meantime, the ERC has added to its efforts a rapid response unit to regarding any complaints of bad behaviour on the elections campaign trail.
“We hope that the rapid response unit will be able to get to the source of the matter very quickly.”
“We will keep warning and do what we are allowed to do within our mandate. We have about 18 days left to either expose them or get them before the Court,” Smith told media operatives
In view of the reports mentioned, he said he written to the leadership of the parties pointing out what is deemed to be unhelpful to the process of fostering harmony. He had also written recommendations for mitigation.
In that context, the ERC Chairman urged that the efforts invested by all, more especially the political parties through their willingness to participate in this process, be reflected in adherence to the spirit and intent of the Code of Conduct.
Smith reiterated that the promotion of harmony takes a collective effort, including all those who hold and those who aspire to hold public office.
He encouraged fairness in reportage and related access across the media. These are the basic of tenets of democracy which if subverted, impact directly and negatively on the promotion of harmony.
Representative of eleven political parties contesting in the Regional and General Elections signed the documents. In doing so, they would have pledged to avoid the use of any display, which will incite public disorder.
This includes removing, defacing, besmirching, damaging, altering or destroying party paraphernalia.
According to the code of conduct, failure to adhere to the code will render parties liable for breach of the agreement. Sanctions may be implemented against the parties by the ERC.
The signing took place at the Georgetown Club on Camp Street in the presence of the media, representatives of the public and private sector, members of the diplomatic corps and the international observer missions.
The code was signed by Presidential Candidate of the People’s Republic Party (PRP) Phyllis Jordan, Presidential Candidate of A New and United Guyana (ANUG) Ralph Ramkarran, APNU’s Joseph Harmon and AFC Chairman Raphael Trotman, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) executive Zulfikar Mustapha and Vickram Bharrat, Prime Ministerial Candidate of Change Guyana Mishka Puran, and representatives of the Liberty and Justice Party, the People’s Republican Party (PRP), Organisation for Victory of the People Party , the United Republic Party (URP) and the Citizenship Initiative (TCI), the New Movement (TNM), and the Federal United (FedUP) Party.
Representative of each party was invited to give remarks.
While each party rep spoke of their intention to strive for unity, PRP‘s leader
Phyllis Jordan used the opportunity to officially register her concerns over what she said appears to be a ploy to stifle the efforts of smaller parties in getting their messages to the public.
Jordan said that while the bigger parties have mass media at their disposal, the smaller groups have had to turn to social media and other media to reach the people.
She claimed however that even the efforts on social media have been met with resistance.
“We have had our social media page taken down and we will like for the ERC to address this type of discrimination or else the signing of the code will be seen as nothing but a farce.”
However, Jordan‘s claim was countered by APNU’s Joseph Harmon, who said the code will auger in a new period for political understanding.
He was followed by Mustapha of the PPP/C who lauded the initiative, a first by the ERC since its formation.
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