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General election: Is the immigrant vote important?

There were conflicting views on Monday about whether votes by naturalized Guyanese and Commonwealth citizens can determine the outcome of the next general election that is expected within another five months.

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) brushed off suggestions that the immigrant-vote would be a decider in the polls while the Alliance For Change (AFC) felt strongly that it could influence the outcome.  Now that the AFC has presented a no-confidence motion to the National Assembly, elections could be called between now and January 31, 2014.

The ruling party’s General Secretary, Clement Rohee believed that the immigrant vote would account fir less than 0.1 percent. “That’s my empirical view…Most of those people don’t worry to participate in our processes much less elections,” he said.

He said the PPP-Civic would seek to capitalize on the immigrant vote but argued that born Guyanese would continue to be the main target group. “The bulk of the voters in this country are Guyanese…and those are the people we have to target. They are the ones that really matter, not to say that a naturalised person does not matter but we are not carving out any electoral strategic niche simply because they were granted naturalisation status. They were entitled to it by law. They don’t owe us anything,” said Rohee whose Home Affairs Ministry is responsible for the processing of citizenship.

He disagreed that the foreign-born voters would be “beholden” to the PPP because the incumbent party has facilitated them. “I think that is underestimating the intelligence of these people. These people are intelligent enough to make such decisions on their own,” he said.

Rohee said it was too early to state whether the PPPC would be having a multi-lingual campaign to cater for the Chinese, Indians and Brazilians. He, however, hinted that they would be targeted in the manifesto and other campaign material with the aim of convincing them that “this is the country to live in.”

Political Scientist, Freddie Kissoon’s position is that votes by naturalized Guyanese would not sway the election in favour of the incumbent party if A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)/Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) make special efforts to get their traditional support base to turn out at the polls.  “It will not be sufficient to determine the outcome for the simple fact that one hundred and thirty thousand registered voters did not vote in the last election,” he said.

Kissoon, now a newspaper columnist, however, noted that a “substantial” number of traditional APNU/PNCR supporters between 18 and 30 years are comparatively nomadic between the interior and various parts of the coast at any given time.  

AFC General Secretary, David Patterson said that with the declining population, the influx of Chinese, Brazilians and Indians would play a role in the country’s elections. Noting that on average a parliamentary seat is 5,000 seats, he said that number of votes could easily influence a top-up seat.

Patterson believed that the immigrant vote would give the ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) an advantage at a time when that political organisation would be looking to regain its parliamentary majority. “Obviously, it will be the incumbent because they are the persons granting the permits,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

The AFC official cautioned that his party would not be lending support to special-interest projects if they would be used inducements for foreign workers to cast ballots in the general and regional elections.