This is in reference to Leroy Nelson’s riposte (KN May 25) to Harry Hergash’s missive (KN May 24). The debate was over electoral rigging in which Hergash contends that there is documented evidence of fraud engaged by PNC and mere allegations of fraud by PPP. Hergash was chastised for ‘an inaccuracy’ for the use of evidence (facts) in buttressing claims of electoral fraud. It is indisputable that there was organized, institutionalized fraud under PNC; that is a fact.
Nelson accepts there was documented evidence of fraud in elections administered by or under PNC (1966 to 1992) but also presented a court’s ruling as evidence there was electoral issues in the 1961 election in the Houston seat which PPP won. Hergash is right to note that that PPP was not ‘in charge’ of the elections. The PPP was ‘not convicted’ by the court or by public opinion for electoral fraud. The discrepancies in the Houston seat were not enough to materially affect the outcome.
Let us be clear, the March 2, 2020 electoral fraud has nothing to do with the 1961 elections and the latter must never be cited as justification for fraud. In 1961, there was an Independent Election Commission and Commissioner of Elections and a Chief Electoral Officer, respected professionals. The Commissioner of Elections was Mr. G.K. Waddell, a respected UK Civil Servant and specialist in electoral matters sent in by London. The Chief Electoral Officer was Mr. Edgar Jack, a senior career officer in the British Guiana Civil Service.
The duo were no Harold Bollers or Lowenfield or Mingo. In Houston, there were three candidates – A. A. Critchlow (UF) who received 435 votes, H. Green (PNC) who got 3,253 votes, and G.M. Henry (PPP) who received 3,701; some 36 ballots were spoilt. The difference between Green and Henry was 448. Perhaps Green felt that with a redo of the election, if Critchlow dropped out, he could pull it off, and challenged the election of Henry on electoral improprieties; there were 13 disputed voters and no one knows for sure how they voted. Justice Fraser, an independent judge (a time when judges did not compromise integrity), declared the election of Henry void even though the number of complaints would not have altered the outcome if the thirteen votes were added to Green – a rather strange ruling, but showed how tough the judges were of that period regarding electoral matters. The PPP was not in charge of ordering or holding elections which were not possible because of the extreme violence (opposition inspired riots) at the time. As Jagan stated, PPP was in office but had no power.
Elections fell under the remit of the colonial authority which set dates for elections. Senior citizens from that era claim that the 1961 election was the last truly free and fair election held in Guyana before 1992. The PNC did not press for a by-election because its outcome would not have affected the balance in the 35 seats elected lower house where the PPP enjoyed a huge majority from the other 34 seats that was deemed won fairly in a transparent election. Five other petitions (four by PNC and one by PPP) were dismissed.
The 1961 elections were administered by the colonial authorities who were determined to defeat Cheddi Jagan because of the perceived geo-strategic threat he posed to the West. That is a documented fact. The power behind the government was the colonial governor and London; not possible for a disliked PPP to engage in and get away with fraud.
A few observations (facts) on electoral fraud bring clarity to the discussion. Electoral fraud in pre-independent Guyana was treated seriously as a violation of the law, and the accused were brought to trial and dealt severe penalties as happened in 1961. There was no wholesale party organized rigging, per se, as happened during 1966-92. In post-independent Guyana, election rigging was institutionalized between 1966 and 1992. Legal actions were never taken against culprits and conspirators in post-independent Guyana. In-pre-independence Guyana, authorities were like hawks overseeing elections. Fraud was deterred.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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