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OPINION: Reach across the political divide

by Retired Major General Joseph Singh

I hold no brief for any political party but am interested in working, like many others, towards achieving an outcome from the current 2020 Elections challenges, that may not satisfy everyone but which at the very least, complies with the Rule of Law and the Guyana Constitution, and one which is respectful of basic human rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The scenes from across the coastal regions of Guyana, captured on video and displayed over the last seventy-two hours on television and social media, showed groups of citizens either celebrating or protesting, depending with which side of the political divide they are aligned. The sight of young men pelting bricks and bottles at ‘the other side’s’ supporters, the logs and obstacles deployed and set alight in order to block roads and other access routes, are all examples of the divisiveness in our society that seems to manifest itself after elections, and reflective of whether or not the electoral process and/or the results, are to the liking of one or other political camp. Such scenes are compelling as they are worrying, and more especially, when innocent children are in the crosshairs of acts of violence.

The leadership cadres of our political parties have a responsibility to manage the expectations of their supporters and while legitimate protest is a sine qua non of our human rights, this needs to be respectful of the sanctity of human life and of public and private property. There is little doubt that the delay and challenges encountered in bringing the 2020 National & Regional Elections process to a credible conclusion, is a major contributory factor to the build up of tensions and manifestations of aggressive behavior in certain constituencies. People must not be used as pawns or cannon fodder to be manipulated in street protests while some of their leaders are comfortable in their cloistered surroundings or pontificate on television. Leadership cadres must identify on the ground with their supporters, who have been led to believe in the causes for which they are expressing either their happiness or their disgust.

Meanwhile, the security forces have a responsibility to manage such legitimate protests in keeping with their mandate to preserve law and order and to do so with decisiveness, yet with tolerance and restraint as circumscribed by their Standard Operational Procedures. They cannot act outside of their Constitutional role and must certainly not be distracted or swayed by any other agenda or they open themselves to national and international condemnation and litigation.

In our pre-Independence history, many of our political, trade union and moral leaders were imprisoned by the colonial power for their role in mobilising, educating and motivating their supporters for causes in which they believed and for which they were engaged in peaceful protest against the colonial administration. Those protests emphasised the unity and solidarity of the Working Class against the injustices of the colonial administration and in pursuit of their basic human rights. Fifty-four years after Independence on May 26, 1966, instead of harnessing the collective diversity, skills and talents of our population, we are now fighting each other for political power, dominance and control. Whatever the outcome of the decision of GECOM and whether the elections are deemed to be credible, it will not solve the extent of mistrust, fear and concerns that stalk the land and generate disunity in our plural society.

Mature leadership reaching across the political divide must be prepared to achieve a degree of consensus in the decision-making process so that no one feels excluded because his or her party did not win the elections or is not represented in Parliament. That reaching-out process must commence NOW and be sustained by leadership, both political and civil society, committed to a process that alleviates the negative feelings, concerns and fears that pervade our society. Our children need to see in us adults, those qualities that they should aspire to emulate in later life. They should draw strength and confidence from our social, economic and cultural relationships and from our political relationships in pursuit of the well-being of all Guyanese, and act in the best interests of Guyana as a Nation and as a member State of the global community.

Currently Special Assistant to the President of Guyana, General Singh has held senior executive appointments in the public and private sectors – and with an International NGO, spanning a wide spectrum of disciplines. He was Director General of the Guyana National Service from 1981 to 1990; Chief of Defence Staff of the Guyana Defence Force from 1990 to 2000; Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission for the 2001 Elections; Executive Director of Conservation International from 2001 to 2005; CEO of the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company from 2005 to 2010; and Chairman of the Board of the Geology and Mines Commission from 2010 to 2012.