Democracy On Trial

By Sir Ronald Sanders

(The writer is Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organisation of American States.  He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto.  The views expressed are entirely his own)

Adherence to democracy, including free and fair elections, has been on trial in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) region over the past three months in Guyana and Suriname.

So far, Suriname is the only one that has come out of the trial with credibility and with regional and international respect.  Its elections, held on May 25, were transparent and peaceful and its results, formally declared on June 4, have been accepted by all the 17 contesting parties and their supporters.

Suriname will now proceed to install a coalition government of four parties that have been in opposition and should easily be able to secure the election of a new President by 34 of 51 votes in the National Assembly.  Chandrikapersad Santokhi, the leader of the Progressive Reform Party, which secured the largest single block of votes, is expected to be the new President.

If there was any sitting President of a country who should have had every reason to rig an election, that President was Desi Bouterse who, in 2019, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment with an appeal still pending.  In addition, he is also wanted in The Netherlands after being convicted in 1999, in his absence, for trafficking in cocaine. He knew that once he ceased to be President, the law enforcement agencies would pursue him.

Yet, neither Bouterse nor his National Democratic Party attempted to gerrymander the general elections process which was declared to be free of fraud by Observer missions from the Organization of American States (OAS) and CARICOM.

The absence of any attempt at fraud, even with the stakes so high, speaks exceedingly well of the Suriname electoral system and the commitment of its managers to democracy, including resisting political interference.

In stark contrast, in Guyana, the false tabulation of the votes of the March 4 elections, and the manoeuvrings that followed, have shown little regard for democracy or for a fair election.  Officers of the Guyana Electoral Commission (GECOM) have been proven, in a recount of all the votes that started on May 6, to have manipulated poll results to increase ballots for the APNU-AFC party of President Granger significantly, and to reduce votes for Jagdeo’s Peoples Progressive Party drastically.

This recount, scrutineered by agents of CARICOM and observed by representatives of the OAS and local groups, is nearing its elongated and painful process that has taken four weeks so far.

However, as the end of the recount nears, the trial of democracy is heightening.  As the recounted votes show that APNU-AFC has clearly lost the elections, its officials are reported to be demanding that the entire general election should be voided.  The basis for this alarming demand is an unsubstantiated allegation that dead or absent persons voted in the election.  Curiously, this ominous statement has come after the APNU-AFC leadership had earlier declared – along with all the observer missions – that the voting, at which every party had agents present, was free and fair.

The question now arises about what will happen when, by June 16, GECOM announces the result of the recounted votes of the elections.  The entire regional and international community has called for the result of the recount to be accepted by all parties and that it be the basis for installing a government that reflects the votes cast by the majority of the electorate.  In this way, Guyana, like Suriname, will transition into a new government peacefully and lawfully, accepted at home and abroad.

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