By Dr. Tara Singh
Guyana’s President, His Excellency Dr Irfaan M Ali, announced on March 2, 2021 the establishment of a national award to be named “Order of Democracy.” This announcement coincided with the first anniversary of the failed attempt by PNCR-AFC operatives to steal the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections.
The President recognizes that had it not been for the vigilance and firm stance of election observer groups (both local and international), as well as the smaller political parties and western diplomatic and CARICOM missions, Guyana might have been gobbled up by dictatorship, reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s.
The idea of honoring the defenders of democracy (with the major plank being free and fair elections), had been first conceptualized and implemented in 2008 by the PPPC government when then President Bharrat Jagdeo conferred the “Order of Liberation” (higher than the Order of Excellence) upon the late President Dr Cheddi B Jagan. More recently, the concept for special national award has been suggested by well-known journalist and scholar Freddie Kissoon, who recommended the erection of monuments/statues of certain diplomats who played a key role in safeguarding democracy in Guyana. While the erection of statues might be considered a stretch, it is the “idea” that is paramount. And the Guyana government has determined that the way forward with this noble idea is to vest defenders of democracy with the “Order of Democracy.”
Guyana has a few categories of national awards (two—Order of Excellence and Order of Roraima– were instituted in 1970 and another one—Order of Service– in 1976) that are usually bestowed upon recipients by the President acting in his capacity as the Chancellor of the Orders of Guyana at independence time. Ideally, these awards should theoretically be granted for excellent work/service of an exceptionally high quality and sustained for a prolonged period.
The “Order of Democracy” is not included in the existing list of awards. It would seem therefore that the Attorney General has to table a motion in Parliament seeking to amend the Act that created the Constitution of the Orders. Inquiring minds want to know if the “Order of Democracy” (OD) will rank at the same level as the “Order of Excellence?” Some writers argue that OD should have equal status to that of “Order of Excellence.”
I assume that the government will establish an independent panel to receive and evaluate nominations. Of course the terms of reference and the determination of eligibility criteria will be given to the panel for consideration and refinement. Once this is settled, individuals, NGOs, political parties, Businesses, etc., could be invited to submit nominations.
I note that there are many individuals and organizations that had spoken out as well as engaged in demonstrations against the attempted electoral coup in March 2020. It would not be possible or practicable to grant an award to each person or organization or institution that spoke out or demonstrated consistently against electoral rigging. Only those who meet the minimum standards set out by the panel would be qualified for this distinction. One such condition, for example, would be that defenders had to engage in various forms of protest (demonstrations, taking the case to the media,etc.) of a consistently visible and sustained nature over a period of at least 5-months.
I believe that awards will be made to certain outstanding individuals and to several organizations. At the individual level, I recommend for the individual “Order of Democracy” Gerry Gouveia, Freddie Kissoon, Rtd Major Joe Singh, Kit Nascimento, Christopher Ram, US Ambassador Sarah Lynch, European Union Ambassador Fernando Ponz Canto, United Nations Resident Representative Ms. Mikiko Tanaka, former Canadian High Commissioner Lilian Chatterjee, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Goldin, the late Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, St Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
Outstanding groups that have performed consistently in exposing electoral rigging are Guardians of Democracy (G.O.D), the ANUG political party, the Justice & Liberal Party (JLP), the Citizens’ Initiative party (TCI), The Commonwealth Secretariat, CARICOM, United Republican Party (URP), the International Center for Democracy (ICD), the New York Guyana Democracy Project (NYGDP), the Association of Concerned Guyanese (ACG, New York), the Association of Concerned Guyanese (ACG, Canada), and the Organization of American States (OAS).
Though the PPPC party has been in the forefront of the defense of democracy, I have excluded them from the list as I don’t want critics to make any assertion of “self-serving.” The list provided here is preliminary and not exhaustive. It is meant to stimulate discussions on the topic. There are likely to be other eligible individuals and organizations that could meet the minimum standards set by the panel.
Several community and NGO leaders have expressed great satisfaction over the proposed implementation of the “Order of Democracy.” This is the most fitting way to honor those individuals/groups, and organizations that have put their lives on hold and also at risk to defend democracy against the vicious and daring attacks by operatives aligned to the party now in opposition. Never again would Guyana allow the declaration of election results to prolong for 5 months and allow unconstitutional rule to grip the nation for over one year. A powerful statement to acknowledge people’s immeasurable contribution to the preservation and defense of democracy will be embedded in the grant of “Order of Democracy,” to deserving candidates. All the freedoms Guyanese enjoy are rooted in democracy.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.