OPINION: The parallels of Guyana and Suriname elections

FILE: Guyana’s caretaker President David Granger and Suriname’s leader, Desi Bouterse

The following is an opinion piece by Dr Tara Singh

The elections’ events unfolding in Guyana as well as in Suriname have cast on to centre-stage the important remarks of Noel Lynch, Caricom’s Ambassador to the OAS. “The Guyanese people deserve a credible and transparent process to put into office a legitimate government that they elected.”

It goes without saying that Ambassador Lynch’s statement is equally applicable to neighbouring Suriname. The Suriname election of May 25th has many parallels with the March 2, 2020 national and regional elections of Guyana. These include, but are not limited to: allegations of electoral irregularities, the need for opposition forces to watch over the ballot boxes, and the reluctance of the incumbent party to step down. There is one noted difference: Suriname’s Elections Commission is run by civil society, and not by political parties; and the Chair is a strong and independent person.

The President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse, was a former military strongman, and so was the President of Guyana, David Granger. Both men are in their mid-70s, and have presided over culturally and racially heterogenous societies, where there is no ethnic majority group. Both of them exercised firm control over their respective national armies.

Granger and Bouterse have lost recent national elections in their respective countries, but are reluctant to give up power. Their loss at elections is attributed to several factors, including financial mismanagement, corruption, and poor governance.

Guyana’s David Granger and Suriname’s Desi Bouterse want to continue to preside over their respective emerging oil economies. For self-gratification? Or to facilitate their cabal to rip off the countries’ resources? Both men have shown an aversion to democracy, the rule of law, and the constitution. Granger, for example, is being accused of violating the constitution on multiple occasions, and Bouterse was convicted for grave human rights violations, including the murder of political opponents, following the military coup that he staged in 1980.

The fear of sanctions, to be imposed upon them for alleged violations of human rights and the subversion of the democratic process, has forced their respective governing parties to hire the sanction-busting Washington firm of JJ&B LLC to lobby on their behalf, to avoid the incurring of sanctions for their actions.

The incumbent governing National Democratic Party of Suriname (NDP), which is led by Desi Bouterse, is projected to lose the May 25th election. Its previous 26 seats in the 51- seat Parliament has been reduced to 16. Stepping down from power would be resisted. An almost similar situation exists in Guyana, where the SOPs indicate that the Opposition PPPC won the elections, but the incumbent PNCR government has refused to concede defeat. A fatigue-prone recount process is underway, and the results are expected to be validated by a Caricom team.

There have been several reports of electoral irregularities in Suriname by opposition forces, including the OAS. These were described as “heavily exaggerated” by the Caricom team.” (ABC News: 5/25/2020). The truth might be somewhere in between.

In Guyana, there has been no major report of Election Day irregularities. Ambassador Lynch’s report notes: “irregularities occurred not in the system by which the Guyanese electorate cast their votes on March 2, but in the presentation of the count afterwards.”  This is the reference to Clairmont Mingo’s voter tabulation fraud on March 4th and 13th.

Moreover, President David Granger praised the Election Day process as free, fair and orderly. The Chair of the Elections Commission (GECOM) paid compliments to her staff for conducting free and fair elections. All the major national and international observer groups and diplomats expressed their satisfaction for relatively incident-free elections.

Notwithstanding the statements of Mr Granger, Ambassador Lynch and others, the PNCR has begun to allege, after a period of 9 weeks following the March 2nd elections, the occurrence of irregularities on Election Day, and even prior to Election Day. But they have not yet provided any evidence.

In Guyana, the history of rigging by the PNCR, and the glaring effort to rig the tabulation process on March 4, 2020, and again on March 13th have forced the opposition parties and defenders of democracy (GOD) to keep a 24- hour watch on all the ballot boxes every day since March 2,2020. Taking a cue from Guyana, Suriname’s opposition forces have been keeping watch over the ballot boxes in Paramaribo.

The Guyana election impasse has caused the Caricom Ambassador to OAS, Noel Lynch, to make a telling comment: “If democracy fails in any Caricom country, it fails in the larger community. If it is imperiled in any part of our community, it is imperiled everywhere in it. As an institution, Caricom can’t allow this to happen in any member state.”

This statement becomes more significant with the election situation in Suriname. Civil society groups, fearing that the Guyana election fiasco happenings might be replicated in Suriname, have made an urgent call to major international organisations and governments to stop electoral fraud and to defend democracy.

There is one rogue state in the region; namely, Venezuela. Would the West and Caricom allow Guyana and Suriname to join that anti-democratic (rogue) club?