United States (US)-based Guyanese Political Science Professor, David Hinds has called for the return of overseas voting 32 years after it was drastically reduced amid concerns that the then People’s National Congress (PNC)-led administration had used it to help to cheat elections and remain in office.
“I think the problem for us in Guyana was not the concept of overseas voting, but that it was used as part of the rigging machinery of that time. So, in an era of fair elections, the meaning changes. I would propose that if we go that direction, as I think we should, it would bring overseas Guyanese more emotionally attached to Guyana,” said Hinds, an executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) political party that had fought militantly alongside the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) for free and fair elections, constitutional reform and free and fair elections from the 1970s to the early 1990s.
The PPP has been floating the possibility of electoral malpractices at Guyana’s next general elections due to be held in 2020.
Conceding that his suggestion of a return to overseas voting “is much more controversial given its association with a bad period in our history,” Hinds recommended a formula for equating the level of parliamentary representation with the number of votes while recognising that voting is the perhaps the most significant aspect of citizenship.
“Perhaps we can begin with some form of weighted voting whereby, for example, two or three overseas votes are equivalent to one local vote. In that way, you control for the perception and reality that those who do not live here all the time should not have equal rights and privileges,” he said.
The Political Scientist noted that overseas-based Guyanese could fly home to register and vote, so all that he is suggesting that they be allowed to vote in the countries where they reside. “If we go the route of oversees voting we would be merely allowing them to vote where they are located.
Hinds, who presented a paper at the just concluded University of Guyana Diaspora Conference, also called for a department of the Diaspora to be established in each government ministry to involve overseas-based skilled and qualified Guyanese more in Guyana’s development especially at a time when the country is on the cusp of becoming an oil producer.
“I propose that each government ministry should have a “diaspora section.” I know the Foreign Affairs Ministry already has such a section, but it should be expanded to other Ministries. There is a popular view that there should be a Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. But I think that is too narrow,” he said.
The vocal Political Scientist and activist recommended an end to the “us” and “them” syndrome and a new approach that would involve our brothers and sisters as an integral part of the Guyanese nation. “We must change the narrative of “us” and “them” on both sides. There is a critical mass of Guyanese who live partly abroad and partly at home and others who make several short trips per year. If we begin, to employ the narrative of “us” more, then we are likely to have a new thinking and new policies that reflect that mindset,” he said.
He further called on overseas-based Guyanese to cease seeing themselves as superior to those who live in Guyana, and at the same time he urged that systems be put in place to attract them to contribute to their country of birth.
“Of course, those who live abroad need to resist the temptation to behave as if they are “better” than those who live here. They should not demand nor should they be afforded more privileges that those citizens who live here. But having said that, they would be more inclined to return or to invest resources if there are incentives at the level of policy,” said Hinds who returns to Guyana several times each year.
He reasoned that it is “foolish” for Guyana to ignore the skills and other resources of hundreds of thousands of Guyanese because they do not live at home permanently. He said small countries like Guyana, with its limited access to the skills and resources needed to compete in an uneven world as far as development is concerned, must draw on all its energies whether they physically reside in Guyana or abroad.
“With the coming of the oil economy, we would be challenged to find skills and resources to serve our needs and interests. Although it would be ideal if persons return permanently, one does not have to live in Guyana permanently to contribute in a meaningful way,” he said.
Former House Speaker, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran seven years ago said the prevention of overseas voting is unconstitutional and all that the Guyana Elections Commission needs to do is to devise a system that would allow for the registration of Guyanese living abroad so that their names could be included in the voters’ list. ” The Elections Commission which has the constitutional responsibility of ensuring that elections are lawfully conducted, has a duty and responsibility to ensure that the constitutional provisions are observed by providing Guyanese, wherever they may be, of the opportunity to vote at elections,” Ramkarran has said.
The PNC-Reform, the largest and most influential party in the governing APNU+AFC coalition, almost 10 years ago had also rejected Ramkarran’s call for the reintroduction of overseas voting on the basis that it had been an attempt by him to distract Guyanese from the issues of the day at that time.