Come Tuesday Guyana would mark 54 years of political independence from Britain. Whereas ours is a relatively young nation, in this global competitive environment, we have to quicken the pace in fortifying our structures of internal self-government. No doubt there exist forces, internal and external, that rather see us divided, expending time tearing each other down. Doing this does not only fuel their thinking that we are unprepared and/or incapable to govern ourselves but fortify misplaced notion of superior and inferiority, us versus them.
We cannot ignore the election impasse has opened wounds that never healed, unmasked fears and hatred; is feeding ill-conceived notions, and unleashing a venom held in check by a society that once demanded a certain level of public civility. These find expressions in a media environment-formal and social- where monitoring is left to one’s conscience not any institution or established code of conduct.
In this atmosphere, some are allowed unfettered access to attack while respondents are constrained. Lies are reported as though true. The society is deprived the benefit of hearing all sides of the story necessary to shaping an informed opinion. Some mainstream media have morphed into party organs. Disagreeableness and incivility are celebrated and promoted as strength. All are exposed and will be consumed inspite of efforts to distance or insulate from the degeneracy.
It has descended to the level whereby a former minister of education under a previous administration finds it acceptable to refer to her fellow Guyanese as “sub-human” while expressing her perspective about an incident at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC). A few days ago, another former minister of said administration allegedly assaulted a female doctor during the discharge of her duties at the Centre. Dismissing or supporting these don’t make them acceptable.
Our forbearers fought against being treated as sub-human. Our Amerindian and African brothers and sisters fought slavery, a system sustained on misplaced notion of inferior and superior where the enslaved was deemed sub-human to justify the crimes against humanity. Our indentured brothers and sisters fought mistreatment and violation wrought under indentureship. Together we fought colonialism and achieved independence and republican status. Having come this far, regardless of which side of the political fence one finds himself or herself at this time, such expression must not be countenanced.
In the other instance, though the behaviour may be a reflection of character and how the person is likely to treat with others, it communicates that even in the face of a deadly non-discriminatory pandemic, he sees challenging a system put in place to safeguard all as ‘political heroism,’ risking the safety and health of others.
The right to equality and equal treatment is inalienable, declared by the United Nations and enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana. Under these instruments, there exists no need to like a person, share their belief or associate to respect their rights. Similarly, one doesn’t have to vote for or support a government to respect the institutions and systems of governance to protect us all. These are civil duties and responsibilities that must be upheld in pursuit of the interest of the common good.
We are witnessing a level of political intemperance not seen before. This is why the observer missions should have been mindful of our volatile environment and strode for neutrality in all their doings. They failed us. The fact that some spent a greater amount of time among the opposition has not made the situation any better. Said association has been construed as lending partisan support, including for the attendant behaviours. Whether such was intended the belief has been cemented.
Note is also taken of a comment made by a young member of the Coalition tent team proving updates on the recount at the ACCC. Responding last week to allegations of voting impropriety by the PPP, he expressed the view that the party should never again be elected to office. Every Guyanese is guaranteed the right to freedom of association and participation in the nation’s welfare. Reservation with the conduct of any party’s leadership should not be hinderance to the party and its leaders playing meaningful role in the governance of this country.
Many have fought, long and hard, some sustained injuries and gave their lives to bring us where we are today. In this moment former President and Leader of the Opposition Desmond Hoyte is remembered for the leadership he delivered during the 1997/1998 struggle. This resulted in the 1999 Constitutional Reform exercise, pivotal of which has been the embracing a political system as expressed in Article 13. Collectively, we agreed and legislated “inclusionary democracy,” which was assented in 2001 by then President Bharrat Jagdeo.
That the said article is deemed the “Principal Political Objective of the State” is not by accident, for its aims to bring about peace and harmony among the society’s diverse groups. That the Jagdeo administration did nothing via legislation, programmes and policies to give true meaning does not mean we must cast same aside. For it mandates “providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.”
It is observed Gail Teixeira, via a recent letter to the press, holds the view the Coalition squandered the opportunity for inclusionary government. This was a response to President David Granger’s commitment to same during an interview on Mark Benschop’s ‘Straight Up’ programme. She failed to acknowledge the government she was part of, and under which the amendment was enshrined, did nothing to advance the process. This is the problem with the finger pointing politics. It ignores a greater number of fingers are always pointing back at the accuser.
Admittedly, the Coalition should have done more, including seeking engagement with other stakeholders to advance the process. As per the extant article, a role exists for all. At the same time, Ms. Teixeira failed to recount that shortly after the government came to office “national unity” talks were initiated, and discussion held. That engagement fell apart.
In September 2015, the PPP issued a statement stating that by “pushing Nagamootoo centre-stage it is now pellucidly clear that the Coalition objective is not to have any talks at all but to put the PPP/C on the defensive and to project the Party as refusing to engage in talks with the government. The entire affair therefore smacks of a political gimmick.” Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo led the Coalition team on those talks.
Notwithstanding the past, Guyanese must now move forward to make inclusionary democracy a reality, regardless of who win, lose, or draw when the election is over. Citizens must disabuse themselves of any notion that others have no place in our political system or must do penitence in order to participate. Neither is true nor must be condoned.
Almost two decades since the assent of “inclusionary democracy”, it is way pass time to walk the talk. We the people must see to it. At this stage of our history, regardless of how we came- though necessary for understanding lived experiences and shaping policies, programmes and laws – of utmost importance is recognition that we are all here. Guyana is our home. We must make home comfortable for all.
(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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