Suriname and Guyana: political leaders as sanctimonious gangsters

Hans Ramsoedh

Elec­tions have recent­ly been held in both Suri­name and neigh­bour­ing Guyana. In both coun­tries, how­ev­er, the cur­rent pres­i­dents refuse to accept their elec­toral defeat. In the last elec­tions on 25 May in Suri­name, Bouterse’s Nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (NDP) suf­fered a major defeat (from 26 to 16 seats). He wants a recount of the votes in Para­mari­bo. David Granger has been pres­i­dent of Guyana since 2015. In the elec­tions on 2 March, the incum­bent gov­ern­ment declared that, even before the offi­cial elec­tion results were known, they had won the elec­tion by one seat dif­fer­ence. Oppo­si­tion and inter­na­tion­al observers spoke of a fraud­u­lent elec­tion result. Under great inter­na­tion­al pres­sure, the Guyanese gov­ern­ment decid­ed to car­ry out an over­all recount of the votes. The Guyanese Elec­toral Com­mis­sion announced on Mon­day 8 June that the oppo­si­tion had won the elec­tions with 33 seats, while Pres­i­dent Granger’s par­ty had won 31 seats. Granger, how­ev­er, did not accept the elec­tion results and spoke of fraud in the recount.

Meet­ing Pres­i­dent Bouterse and Pres­i­dent Granger in Jamaica in July 2018

How did the process in Suri­name go after the elec­tions? The state­ment of the Suri­namese peo­ple was unequiv­o­cal: exit Bouterse and the NDP. The pop­u­la­tion had more than enough of the dis­as­trous socio-eco­nom­ic poli­cies, endem­ic cor­rup­tion, the sale of nat­ur­al resources, the sky­rock­et­ing nation­al debt and the self-enrich­ment by a small group around the pres­i­dent. In a demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem, it is cus­tom­ary for losers to accept the elec­tion results and con­grat­u­late the win­ners on their elec­tion vic­to­ry. For the los­ing par­ty, it means that it takes its place in the oppo­si­tion bench­es and sub­mits to a reflec­tion on the cause of the elec­tion defeat. To date, how­ev­er, the NDP lead­er­ship has still not offi­cial­ly resigned from the elec­tion results. Before the elec­tion, Bouterse declared: ‘The peo­ple are in charge and we must bow our heads to it’. A day after the elec­tion, he had long for­got­ten his state­ment, because when it became clear to him that his NDP was the big los­er, Bouterse demand­ed an over­all recount across the coun­try in the pres­ence of cam­eras. A few days lat­er, instead of an over­all recount, a recount of the votes in Para­mari­bo was demand­ed. Accord­ing to the NDP, there could have been irreg­u­lar­i­ties on the day of the vote. How­ev­er, no con­crete inci­dents were report­ed by this par­ty regard­ing pos­si­ble irreg­u­lar­i­ties. Recount is also not a mean­ing­ful exer­cise since all polling sta­tions were super­vised by NDP offi­cials. The organ­i­sa­tion of the elec­tions was quite chaot­ic, but accord­ing to the pres­i­dent of the Inde­pen­dent Elec­toral Office (OKB), Jen­nifer van Dijk-Silos, there was no ques­tion of fraud. She stat­ed that in her 20-year career at the OKB she had nev­er seen so much chaos and that the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs showed ‘incom­pe­tence’ and ‘a huge breach of the organ­i­sa­tion of elec­tions’. The organ­i­sa­tion of the elec­tions was pur­ple [par­ty colour of the NDP]: wrong bal­lots deliv­ered to the polling sta­tions, vot­ers who had already vot­ed at some polling sta­tions were called upon to cast their bal­lots again, and there were quite a few reports from a num­ber of polling sta­tions in Para­mari­bo. In par­tic­u­lar, the offi­cial han­dling of the votes in Para­mari­bo caused a great deal of com­mo­tion. From the point of view of the oppo­si­tion the NDP gov­ern­ment attempt­ed to inter­vene in the demo­c­ra­t­ic process of count­ing. Observers from var­i­ous polit­i­cal par­ties spent a week spend­ing nights in the Antho­ny Nesty Sports Hall (ANS) where the admin­is­tra­tive han­dling of the bal­lot papers of the Para­mari­bo con­stituen­cy took place. This is to pre­vent fraud. All in all, it took ten days before the unof­fi­cial results of Para­mari­bo were announced. There was a sus­pi­cion that the gov­ern­ment was using a delay­ing tac­tic in order to be able to defraud.
Despite the great loss, the NDP is still try­ing to stay in pow­er in many ways. The oppo­si­tion par­ties VHP, NPS ABOP and PL declared that a day after the elec­tions they would form a new gov­ern­ment with Chan San­tokhi [polit­i­cal leader of the VHP] as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Although Brunswijk [polit­i­cal leader of ABOP] had stat­ed before the elec­tions that he was exclud­ing coop­er­a­tion with the NDP and had already com­mit­ted to a coali­tion with VHP, NPS and PL, the NDP side nev­er­the­less tried to per­suade Ron­nie Brunswijk of the ABOP to engage with the NDP. Accord­ing to the mofokran­ti, [ver­bal spread­ing of news or rumours] the NDP even offered the pres­i­den­cy to Brunswijk. Appar­ent­ly, the NDP is try­ing in all sorts of ways to stay on in the pow­er cen­ter despite the out­come of the vox pop­uli on May 25. The NDP’s delay­ing tac­tics can be seen as the last con­vul­sions of a crim­i­nal regime.

Neigh­bour­ing Coun­try Guyana has a long his­to­ry of eth­nic and polit­i­cal ten­sions. Elec­tions in this coun­try are always asso­ci­at­ed with eth­nic vio­lence. In this coun­try, pol­i­tics is dom­i­nat­ed by the Indo-Guyanese (East Indi­ans) People’s Pro­gres­sive Par­ty (PPP) with charis­mat­ic leader Ched­di Jagan (1918- 1997) and Afro-Guyanese (East Indi­ans) People’s Nation­al Con­gress (PNC) in the 1960s, 1970s and the first half of the 1980s led by the dic­ta­to­r­i­al Forbes Burn­ham (1923–1985).
The PNC’s dom­i­nance of Guyanese pol­i­tics between 1964 and 1992 effec­tive­ly marked the estab­lish­ment of a Cre­ole dic­ta­tor­ship in which East Indi­ans had the posi­tion of sec­ond-class cit­i­zens. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, dur­ing Burnham’s reign, tens of thou­sands of East Indi­ans sought safe haven in coun­tries such as the US and Cana­da. The PNC was able to stay in pow­er due to large-scale elec­toral fraud. Under great inter­na­tion­al pres­sure and thanks to the pres­ence of a team of 100 for­eign observers in 1992, elec­tions were held for the first time in more than three decades free of manip­u­la­tion and fraud. They end­ed 28 years of polit­i­cal sole rule of the PNC and result­ed in a vic­to­ry for Jagan’s PPP. This par­ty remained in pow­er until 2015. That year, David Granger was elect­ed pres­i­dent.

Granger was an offi­cer and nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er to Pres­i­dent Burn­ham. In 1979 he was appoint­ed com­man­der of the Guyanese army. He retired in 1992. In 2012, he was elect­ed leader of the PNC. By work­ing with a num­ber of small­er par­ties (includ­ing a split from the PPP), the name PNC was changed to A Part­ner­ship for Nation­al Uni­ty (APNU)/ Alliance forChange (AFC), but with­in this coali­tion the PNC is the dom­i­nant par­ty. In 2012, Granger was the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for APNU/AFC. The PPP can­di­date Don­ald Ramo­tar was elect­ed pres­i­dent in 2012.
In 2015, the APNU/AFC coali­tion won the elec­tion with just one seat dif­fer­ence. After an APNU/AFC MP joined the oppo­si­tion at the end of 2019, Pres­i­dent Granger had no choice but to call new elec­tions on 2 March 2020.

The APNU/AFC coali­tion claimed the elec­tion win on March 2. The PPP oppo­si­tion reject­ed this claim and spoke of wide­spread fraud. Inter­na­tion­al observers from the US, Cana­da, Britain, the Euro­pean Union, Cari­com and the OAS also ques­tioned the cred­i­bil­i­ty of the elec­tion results and demand­ed a recount in their pres­ence. The US threat­ened to block Guyana’s for­eign funds and, as well as Cana­da and Eng­land, by not rec­og­niz­ing the legit­i­ma­cy of a new gov­ern­ment under Pres­i­dent Granger. The Cari­com even threat­ened to move its head­quar­ters in George­town (the cap­i­tal of Guyana) to anoth­er Caribbean coun­try if Granger con­tin­ued to reject a recount. As a result of the strug­gle between the gov­ern­ment and the oppo­si­tion over the out­come of the elec­tions, eth­nic ten­sions in the coun­try increased. In riots between Indo- and Afro-Guyanese in march and April, some peo­ple were injured and one was killed.

V.l.n.r. Bhar­rat Jagdeo (for­mer Pres­i­dent of Guyana and Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al of the PPP), pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Irfaan Ali and can­di­date prime min­is­ter Mark Phillips

After more than a month of wran­gling over the elec­tion result and under great inter­na­tion­al pres­sure, the Guyanese gov­ern­ment final­ly agreed to a recount. Pres­i­dent Granger and Bhar­rat Jagdeo (for­mer Pres­i­dent and Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al of the PPP) agreed to accept the out­come of the recount, which would take place under inter­na­tion­al super­vi­sion. The recount of the 465,000 votes and 2,339 bal­lot box­es took more than 33 days. How­ev­er, when the then incum­bent Pres­i­dent Granger became clear that the oppo­si­tion PPP was ahead, he reject­ed the result of the recount, despite his ear­li­er com­mit­ment, by talk­ing of fraud in the vote. Dur­ing the recount, it became clear that Granger’s par­ty had been defraud­ed at the ear­li­er count. The recent elec­tion in Guyana calls for rem­i­nis­cences of the Burn­ham gov­ern­ment, which was able to stay in pow­er for more than three decades thanks to wide­spread fraud. In the unof­fi­cial result announced by the Guyanese Elec­toral Com­mis­sion on Mon­day 8 June, the PPP won 33 seats and Pres­i­dent Granger’s APNU/AFC 31. With this result, the 40-year-old Irfaan Ali (1980) becomes the new pres­i­dent of Guyana on behalf of the PPP. He was pre­vi­ous­ly an MP and min­is­ter in the PPP gov­ern­ment. With Granger’s rejec­tion of the elec­tion result, new vio­lent clash­es between Indo and Afro-Guyanese in Guyana should not be ruled out.

Granger’s atti­tude is sim­i­lar to Bouterse’s: both refuse to accept the elec­tion result. Although Bouterse and Granger pro­mote free and fair elec­tions, but their actions prove oth­er­wise. In Caribbean polit­i­cal cir­cles, Pres­i­dent Granger is described as a “sanc­ti­mo­nious gang­ster” [sanc­ti­mo­nious gang­ster — quote from John Beale, for­mer ambas­sador of Bar­ba­dos to the US and to the OAS, quot­ed in Inewsguyana.com,6 June, 2020: ‘Opin­ion: Zero Tol­er­ance for any vio­la­tion of democ­ra­cy in Guyana’]. Like David Granger, Desi Bouterse is from the same sheet a suit. The atti­tude of both rep­re­sents an under­min­ing of the demo­c­ra­t­ic process in their coun­try and shows their unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic dis­po­si­tion.

TOP