The barely 40 percent turnout by police, soldiers and prison guards in the 2018 Local Government Elections is a sign that traditional supporters of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)-dominated government are disenchanted, political scientists said Monday.
Political Scientists, Dr. Henry Jeffrey and Dr. David Hinds, however, said doling out huge salary increases will not be sufficient for the incumbent administration to recapture them in time for general elections due in another two years.
Emphasising that turnout at local government elections in many countries is usually low, Dr. Jeffrey nevertheless expected more than 39.7 percent of the 7,917 registered members of the Disciplined Forces to vote last Friday, ahead of the civilian population on November 12, 2018. With more than 90 percent of the State’s security forces being Afro-Guyanese- a segment of the population that has traditionally supported the PNCR, which is the largest party in A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), he reasoned that it is not a good sign for that political organisation.
“Given the nature of the Disciplined Services, you would have thought that the PNC would have made a better showing there. If this represents what will happen in the country as a whole, I think it would not be good for them; as a first omen, it is not good,” he told Demerara Waves Online News. Jeffrey had expected the security forces to climb over 50 percent in their voting last week Friday, based on their historical voting pattern
Jeffrey, who has worked with the PNC and the People’s Progressive Party administrations, believed the turnout was low among soldiers, police and prison guards because the government “has not lived up to expectations” and has instead been riddled with “many” scandals such as the rental of a building in Albouystown, Georgetown to store medical supplies, a reported 50 percent increase in ministers’ salaries months after coming to office in 2015, the secret US$18 million signature bonus from ExxonMobil and other aspects of the renegotiated 2016 contract with that American oil company. “I think there is general feeling of disappointment with the regime,” he said.
Predicting that the PPP would do “quite well” in the Local Government Elections to “prove that they are still the majority party in this country”, Jeffrey said that could psychologically impact on the PNCR going into the 2020 general elections.
The former government minister was not hopeful that the APNU+ Alliance For Change-led administration could overcome some of its electoral misfortunes before the general elections because already government has not kept its promises such as constitutional reform. Asked if granting huge salary increases and one-off bonuses would help the incumbent administration to regain lost support, Jeffrey said parts of the electorate could interpret that as vote-buying coupled with future failed promises. “That might help but certainly people are going to see it as a blatant attempt to buy them. ‘They wait till the election to buy us and believe they are going to do the same thing the next time’…I don’t think it can help them too much coming to the next election and there is not much they can do,” said Jeffrey.
Similarly, Dr. Hinds said because this is the last Local Government Elections before the general election, he said APNU should pay attention to the low turnout among members of the Disciplined Forces. “I think that is saying there is a lot of work to be done in terms of mobilising interest among your constituency. You see the military is one of the demographics that has been over the years very loyal to the PNC/APNU and so that low turnout could send a message,” he added.
The United States-based Political Science Professor whose is also an executive member of the Working People’s Alliance- an APNU member- should be worried about whether its constituency would vote for the PPP but whether their supporters would vote at all. While preferring to await the results of the LGE to ascertain the voter turnout by the general population, he said it was likely that the number could be less.
For Dr. Hinds, he prefers to see a “more comfortable number” of about 50 percent, but said that 39.7 percent turnout indicates how government employees, including teachers and public servants, feel they are being treated by the David Granger-led administration. “I don’t think that the government has paid enough attention to the real serious industrial relations concern as it relates to public servants; things like wages and salaries, I don’t think that they have done that,” he said.
Another major setback, he said, has been the fact that APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) have contested the elections separately, a move that has sent the wrong signal to the electorate. “The coalition government has to show that there is unity among them. The general public now gets the sense that the coalition is in trouble and I think it’s a really bog mistake from a political standpoint to have the AFC contest on their own,” he said. He observed that the PNCR is reportedly attacking the AFC and the AFC is attacking the PPP on the local polls campaign trail, while expecting the electorate to believe APNU and AFC would “come together” for the general elections.
“The disintegration is not a good sign because remember in order to get to 2015 you had to start to work since 2005/2006. It was a ten-year process to get to 2015 and so, therefore, when people’s confidence are eroded in something that they had hope in, that is a serious problem,” he said.
In that regard, Dr. Hinds said APNU would have to embark on serious introspection to ascertain whether the coalition is “for real and it not just the PNC in disguise because I think that image is being played out” because that is not good for 2020.
He recommended that governments in societies such as Guyana respond to workers in specific ways to allow them to feel that government is “thinking about them” against the background of historical and structural problems that they face. Hinds also zoomed in on recent controversy in the Guyana Police Force over who was recently promoted and to some extent the management of the Guyana Prison Service.
The Political Scientist also proposed that APNU+AFC engages in a “real grassroots campaign” immediately after the Local Government Elections to address people’s concerns instead of vote-begging on the eve of an election. “They need to go on a political campaign, not a government campaign. Let the government do its work in terms of managing the economy, in terms of managing the system but the coalition parties need to go first of all into the communities and in the various sections of the workforce and have a heart-to-heart conversation with their constituency,” he said. The focus of such interactions, he said, should be to glean from its supporters their scorecard on government’s performance.
On whether providing large salary increases and infrastructural works would rescue APNU, he said that might excite some despondent people but it would not trigger required enthusiasm. “That has to be done against the background of a feeling that this government cares, that this coalition of parties cares about people and their long-term interests and not about just giving them some resources in order to get votes. I think people are much smarter than we think they are,” he said.
He further suggested that wherever APNU is victorious, local councils need to be empowered to delivery services and solve problems such as bad roads and poor drainage. “The Local Authorities and Neighbourhood Councils have not been able to solve those problems because there is a lack of resources; part of it has to do with resources not coming from the Central Government and part of it they are not able to raise money from local taxes and so something has to be done to empower those councils so that they can solve people’s problems at that basic level and I think if you are able to do that you are able to generate some kind of confidence in your ability to govern, not just at the Central Government level but at the level of the local authorities,” he said.
Political Scientist, Freddie Kissoon’s assessment is that African Guyanese might be feeling that politics is “failing them” due to the “deadly performance” by APNU+AFC. “I think we are entering a stage in this country where people see politics as failing them. I think there was unprecedented optimism with the formation of APNU and the electoral success of a multiracial party like the AFC and their performance in power has been nothing short of disastrous. In the case of the AFC it has been horribly immoral in that they have moved away from every conceivable promise they made and idea that they embraced so I think we are seeing a failure in politics,” said Kissoon.
APNU, he said, dug the AFC’s political grave by giving Minister of State, Joseph Harmon 19 areas of responsibility compared to less than a handful to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, as well as treated the WPA “flippantly”. “They have self-destructed,” Kissoon said. “The formation of APNU, with the coming together of the Rodney party and the Burnham party, I think created an unprecedented optimism in Black people and when you fail them so badly, you kill their spirit,” he said.
There 573,000 persons who are eligible to vote in the Local Government Elections next week Monday to elect councillors in the towns and villages in the 80 local authority areas. The Guyana Elections Commission has budgeted GYD$1.2 billion for these polls.