This piece is addressed to women across the political
spectrum. We, more than any other group in Guyana , have the electoral
power to bring to an end the deleterious impact of the political
fracture in our society as mainstream politicians make all kinds
of excuses not to do the right thing by making paramount the welfare
of all Guyanese.
Apart from arranging for Constitutional reform,
sustained dialogue between the PPP/C and the PNCR, etc., the Herdmanston
Accord measures were to have been introduced ‘for the improvement
of race relations in Guyana, including the contribution which
equal opportunity legislation and concepts drawn from the CARICOM
Charter of Civil Society can contribute to the cause of justice,
equity and progress in Guyana'.
Failure to address these crucial issues by successive
PPP/C administrations have brought our country into disrepute,
and caused our people to continue to flee these shores in large
numbers to be scattered around the world and subjected to inhospitable
treatment in some instances. Clearly, politics as has been practised
by these dominant political forces, the PPP/C and the PNCR have
failed us. So what could we as women do in view of the fact that
the 2006 elections are upon us?
Women across the political spectrum should mobilise,
as other women have done elsewhere in the world, to impress upon
the major political players that we desire an end be brought to
the political bickering they have engaged in for generations;
to end the misuse of state resources and institutions by the current
PPP/C government to allow for truly free and fair elections; and
for peace and harmony among our people to prevail during this
elections period. Women should position themselves between the
old political forces to prevent the realisation of the predictions
by the prophets of doom, so that an environment of political stability
could develop in order to bring in the dawn of a new era to end
the physical deprivations of our people and the mental shackles
of racial politics. Women must debunk the myth that the PPP/C
owns East Indians voters and the PNCR owns voters of African descent.
This political and mental slavery must end because it is the root
of all Guyana 's problems. To continue to accept it is to accept
the generational sentence of political irresponsibility and disregard
for our people's desire for peace, harmony, physical safety, justice
and socio/economic development.
A little noticed statement made some time ago
by the First Lady, Varshni Jagdeo, is deserving of public attention,
since it provides one of the keys for general societal action
that could lead us down the road to achieving that which we all
crave but have eluded us. The First Lady said that the most important
ingredient she found to be missing in our public, social and political
commentaries is patriotism.
We must understand that the political process
in a democratic environment is expected to enable the achievement
of some basic characteristics such as:
• A government elected by the people to
serve all the people in a manner to evince a general feeling of
equal treatment and equal opportunity.
• A government that exercises power with
the understanding that it has a duty and the responsibility to
protect citizens' rights to life and safety denied us in recent
• In turn the citizens grant government
temporary power to make decisions on their behalf through a process
of participation in the life and governance of the society.
Definition of a Democratic Government
The democratic system of government should be
organised in such a way as to prevent an individual or one group
or one institution from becoming too powerful and prevailing over
others on issues. Thus, the adoption generally around the world
of the principle of separation of powers into different branches
of government – legislative, executive and judicial - which
is perceived to have been eroded in Guyana. By dividing these
responsibilities, and placing checks on power and influence, a
democratic society limits government abuses and helps ensure the
rights of individuals. A democratic government is therefore inclined,
organisationally and procedurally, to make decisions that benefit
the society as a whole, rather than a particular interest group
- a signal failure of successive governments in Guyana .
Prior to the formation of the Alliance For Change
(AFC) there was developing among the Guyanese society a perception
that it was more virtuous to be a member of a civil society organisation
(CSO) than a member of a political party, so discredited had politicians
and political parties become. Today, just after seven months of
existence, the AFC has attracted thousands of members from all
ten regions of the country.
In a publication titled ‘Democracy out
of Balance', Ivan Doherty, one time General Secretary of Ireland's
Fein Gael Party, said that: “Without strong political parties
and political institutions that are accountable and effective,
that can negotiate and articulate compromises to respond to conflicting
demands, the door is effectively open to those populist leaders
who will seek to bypass the institutions of government, especially
any system of checks and balances, and the rule of law.”
He could be speaking of Guyana today.
In an NDI National survey on Increasing Women's
Political Participation that comprised a population sample of
446 women, representative of the 10 administrative regions of
the country based on the population distribution by administrative
regions, ethnic and religious samples in proportion to the country's
social, religious and ethnic demographics, it was revealed that:
• 68% of women surveyed felt that they
could make a major difference in their community if new and honest
approaches were the style adopted by the political leadership.
• Many held the view that politics was
too ‘dirty and ugly', while others perceived Guyanese politics
with the two major contenders the PPP/C and the PNCR as confrontational.
Women felt that these parties were contributing and benefiting
from the social and political fracture in the society, and stated
that changing the political culture in Guyana was a fundamental
prerequisite to their future participation.
• The survey asked if women thought there
would be any benefit of a network of women politicians from all
political parties in Guyana . The general view was that networking
was desirable but difficult, because women politicians would have
competing claims on their loyalty. In the words of a woman interviewed:
“the leaders at the top must approve of this approach, otherwise
no benefits will occur.”
• Overall the women interviewed felt that
the issues affecting women would be better dealt with if there
were more women in parliament. As much as 86% felt hopeful about
the impact of increased numbers of women MPs, even though general
dissatisfaction with the aggression and assertiveness of the current
political culture was expressed. Women felt that issues related
to crime and unemployment, were accorded insufficient attention
by the last parliament. On the other hand, women felt that an
equal distribution of men and women in the Parliament would allow
women's issues fairer attention and treatment.
It should be pointed out that in our electoral
process the electorate don't vote to elect individual candidates,
they vote for a party list. As a consequence, the decision rests
with the party leader who has control of the list who should enter
the National Assembly. The AFC is committed to changing this and
returning to the people the right to directly elect Members of
Parliament as was distinctly expressed during the Constitutional
Reform Process in 1999 that would allow for more direct accountability.
The Alliance For Change is also committed to revising the Guyana
Constitution to allow for a re-distribution of presidential powers.
Some Factors Impinging on National Development
It is instructive that some of the women interviewed
in the NDI survey held the view that benefits in the form of electoral
support accrue to the political forces that advance insecurity
among their supporters. ‘Better the devil you know than
the one you don't' best exemplifies the argument usually advanced
by people who willingly fall prey to this illogic, come national
elections time. The fact that such an unethical proposition has
gained mileage among large sections of the Guyanese electorate
tells us either about the gullibility of the Guyanese people or
about their unabashed double standards. It is said most succinctly
that a people get the government they deserve. Whatever the reason,
the result that is evident in this country has exacted a commensurate
punishment on the Guyanese people in the form of half a century
of protracted political unrest, social and economic stagnation
and the reason for half of the population opting to flee the country.
In closing, I return to the First Lady's comments mentioned earlier
about the absence of patriotism in the local political discourse.
and call on Guyanese women to join in the effort of nation-building
by getting involved politically.
[Editor's Note: Repreoduced from Kaieteur
News, July 2, 2006.]