Democracy is more than free, fair elections – Western Nations

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2022, 15:55 by Denis Chabrol

Major Western Nations  on the occasion of International Day of Democracy- to be observed on Thursday- said democracy is not limited to free and fair elections, even as they pledged to support efforts by “all” Guyanese to play a role in their country’s development.

While free, fair and inclusive elections are critical, democracies also help safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms and work to strengthen political, economic, and social rights.  And they do so openly, to the benefit of all,” United States Ambassador to Guyana Sarah-Ann Lynch, British High Commissioner to Guyana Jane Miller, Canada’s High Commissioner to Guyana Berman and European Union Ambassador to Guyana René van Nes said in a joint statement.

The governing People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) has historically placed great emphasis on free and fair elections, but has questioned the representativeness of civil society critics such as the non-governmental Guyana Human Rights Association. In August 2022, President Irfaan Ali  met with officials of the Civil Society Forum (CSF) and reportedly told them that civil society’s involvement is “key to Guyana’s development.”

The Western envoys reaffirmed the cornerstones of democracy, including liberty, equality, inclusivity, freedom of religion and belief, speech and assembly, the rule of law, and the right to vote. They said when those principles are placed at the center of foreign policy frameworks, they connect us as global citizens and help nations achieve and sustain peace and stability around the world.       

The American, British, Canadian and European Union envoys said democracy includes other important stakeholders such as civil society, the media and going after those engaged in abuse and corruption.  “To tackle the critical issues facing the world today, democracies need to be constantly vigilant in strengthening their institutions and processes, actively engaging civil society, supporting press freedom, ensuring equity and fairness, respect for diversity, and holding to account those who commit abuses and foster corrupt practices,” they said.

The opposition A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance For Change had stated separately that they would be reaching out to civil society and the small political parties that had contested the March 2020 general and regional elections. Both parties, while in opposition, have had a history of accusing each other while in government about monopolising the state-owned media,  allocating state resources to its allies and supporters, violating press freedom, racial discrimination, abuse of power and corruption.

However, the US, Britain, Canada and the EU said they would support efforts by Guyanese to be involved in their country’s development. “In closing, on this International Day of Democracy we resolve to support the people of Guyana to continue building a democratic system that is strong, resilient, and guarantees all Guyanese have a voice and role to play as the country moves forward at this unique time in its history,” they said. Guyana is an emerging major oil producer in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Admittedly, the envoys said those cherished democratic values are fragile, and sadly, not all global citizens enjoy the rights that stem from these values.  “It is a stark reminder that there is still work to be done to uphold democratic principles and renew the spirit of democracy across the globe,” they added.