By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
I extend to Mohamed Irfaan Ali congratulations on his being elected as President of Guyana. On August 2, it was not certain that he would be declared President much less sworn in. Matters occurred quickly beyond expectations. Anyway, to much rejoicing by Guyanese at home and in he diaspora, the battle for acceptance of the recount was over. It has been a long struggle and the country is much relieved that it is over. The country can now move on to address the labyrinth of challenges it faces.
The Guyana March 2 elections tested our resolve in support of democracy and the outcome of the vote. The count on election night was accurate and was so recognized by every international and national observer group as well as every foreign diplomat. It was correct and was certified by a recount. But the riggers refused to budge holding on to office. Our country held steadfast that every vote must be accurately counted. And it was. The world community was with us and supported us all the way to the end.
It was the second time I was involved in a struggle for the restoration of the vote. The first was after 1964 when the PNC removed the ballot that was granted by Whites in 1953. That was a 28 years struggle of which I was in the midst. This one was for five months but it felt like eternity and I was in the midst.
August 2 will be long remembered by the region and Guyanese in particular — as the caretaker President of Guyana conceded defeat and allowed the rightful winner to be worn in. Prime Minister Rowley had said in mid March that he feared it would not end well. He was right; it took five months and Granger said he would challenge the outcome in court. Trinis developed a keen interest in the election declaration and are relieved that it is over. Irfaan Ali, a PhD holder of UWI St Augustine was sworn in as President.
What a relief for those of us who were in the forefront of the battle championing democracy and the right to count the ballots in that country. I participated in several election battles in Guyana to have the ballots correctly counted going back to the first rigged election of 1968. Never before have I seen such global unity over the last five months to combat electoral fraud. The globe was arrayed against the opposition between 1966 and 1992 because of its ideological alignment with the Soviet and Cuban blocs. And not since 1973 did I experience such a large majority of Guyanese at home and in the diaspora united to oppose flagrant rigging. The Guyanese and Caribbean diaspora is most pleased that the impasse is over; a burden is lifted from their shoulder. They breathe a sigh of relief. There were celebrations that democracy has triumphed.
From March 3, while in Guyana as a reporter and observer, I was appealing to the parties to respect the will of voters. My pre-election polls showed the PPP were ahead and would win. The initial count on March 3 gave the PPP a victory. On March 4, Owen Arthur said the PPP won. Myself and a few others worked behind the scenes to get international forces (politicians, governments, organizations) to cajole the parties to accept the vote count and recount. Some didn’t wish to have their names known publicly for fear of consequences. As a veteran of the struggle for free and fair elections going back to the 1960s, I didn’t mind my name in public glare for participating in an honorable act to stand up for free and fair elections. Not surprisingly, recognition, congratulations and words of gratitude came in from India, Trinidad, Canada, US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore for the work we quietly did as some of us also did between 1973 and 1992 to restore voting rights in Guyana. The right to vote is fundamental in any democratic state and parties must be willing to accept the outcome. The experience in fighting for free and fair elections between 1966 and 1992 and between 2015 and 2020 will never be forgotten. I can write volumes on my travels, including to Trinidad, Barbados, etc., in meeting important voices and courting their support for democracy in Guyana. Those who experienced the fraud and fought against it would have the knowledge and feel to write about it.
Almost every Guyanese in the diaspora and at home and every Caribbean national intensely followed the elections during the campaign and thru August 2. In fact, the globe watched with horror what transpired since December 21, 2018 following the successful no confidence motion and the refusal of the fallen government to accept global parliamentary norm and resign. It challenged the vote and even what constitutes a majority of 65. It even defied the CCJ. Every decent person condemned the government over the NCM and the counting fraud of March. Every democratic country and international organization condemned the fraud.
Everywhere in the diaspora and even in other parts of the globe, there is celebration that the Guyana election impasse is finally over. Many Trinis in America followed it. There were euphoric displays in the US, Canada, UK, and Trinidad. Guyanese and the international community is relieved. The nation and the diaspora want to move on. Congratulations to Dr. Irfaan Ali and team. It is a victory well deserved. I salute and applaud the work done by colleagues in the diaspora to lobby foreign forces to pressure the defeated coalition to throw in the towel. David Granger did right in conceding. Reforms would be needed to safeguard the right to vote and the counting of ballots.