Mar 01, 2021 Editorial
On February 10, last, USA Today carried an opinion piece from two contributors that was titled, “Donna Brazile, Michael Steel: These 7 elections reforms will safeguard American democracy” that was remarkable in several respects. It was remarkable in the first place because the seven reforms envisioned came from two politicians from opposing ends of the increasingly rancorous American political divide.
Also, it was not just any two political partisans, but very senior ones in the former chairs of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, Donna Brazile and Michael Steele respectively. And the third reason that we at this paper think that the opinion piece and embedded elections reforms put on the table has legs, is because some of those same recommendations can go a far way here in Guyana and make a meaningful difference.
It should be noted that we have taken the liberty of massaging what the two former party chairs made public to close some of the loopholes exposed and much talked about here relative to the March 2020 elections. We do so because we believe that this gives the flexibility that is needed here to meet our own domestic requirements.
First, the former chairs wrote of “establishing a more regular stream of funding for elections” so that “states and localities do not have to rely on private philanthropy and corporations for elections costs.”
We think that elections funding to local political parties must have a limit, be disclosed publicly, and provisions be put in place that prohibit deep pocketed donors from finding ways to undercut the objectives of what is in place, through shells, straws, families, and employees, among others.
Foreign elections observers were sharp in their condemnations of the funding free for all, a lot of it under the table that was a significant contributor to the elections efforts of both of Guyana’s two major political parties. To make matters worse, there were and are continuous whispers, and inflexible postures by many, that much of what was contributed so lavishly came from dirty money.
It is a public secret that some of the more generous donors have sullied reputations, both locally and elsewhere. Campaign financing and political contributions in general are due for a complete overhaul.
Second, the former chairs made a call to “hold social media accountable” which is something with which very few should have objections, given the utter vulgarities and depravities that were part of the dangerous partisan exchanges. Again, we take this to places that are farther than Ms. Brazile and Mr. Steele laid before the American public. We finesse to suit Guyana’s forbidding and unforgiving political and racial contexts.
The social media platforms operating in the local domain must be made to abide by the highest standards of political decorum, with the dignity of all recognized and respected. Even as we say this, there is the understanding that Guyana lacks some of the necessary tools and resources to police comprehensively and effectively the vast open frontier made possible by well-populated and well-utilized social media platforms.
We need to start somewhere to curb the terrible excesses that raged uncontrolled (by participants) and remained mostly unmanaged (by authorities) during the 19-month period dating from the parliamentary passage of the no confidence motion to the still far from fully supported declaration of elections results. We cannot afford a repeat of what happened from December 2019 to the end of July 2020.
Third, the two opinion writers recommended a revision of the Ethics in Government Act. We agree that this needs more than scrapping and restarting fresh at the local level. From the president on down, to all political activists (who should be registered), and public servants (who should be barred from actively participating in elections, unless an official waiver is obtained), all should be held to the highest standards of ethical behaviour on the pain of the severest sanctions. If there is real seriousness to making a genuine start at elections reforms, then we have to stop pussyfooting around with what sugarcoats matters and handles offenders with kid’s gloves.
Fourth, Ms. Brazile and Mr. Steele called for a better (electronic) registration system. We agree with something like this for Guyana, given the disputes we have had with voters’ lists, eligibility, and suspected political corruptions in the process. That has been one of the bigger bones in Guyana’s electoral throat, and which has remained firmly fastened there. This has to be put to bed once and for all, as part of any honest local electoral reform.
Last, there was the strange via the call to not tolerate candidates who lie. That is, ban them. A first lie is strike one; the second is goodbye, as in out of the party (an opportunity for more deviousness) and away from any elections proceedings. We saw what happened in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, last.
We know what happened here from before March 2nd and afterwards. Two Americans were brave enough and nonpartisan enough to say enough and not again. We have an opportunity to make a start to set elections issues right here from all the hard lessons of last year. We can do so by working to make headway on some of the recommendations from above and adding a whole lot more, all of which are most urgently needed.
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