As Guyana reaches the latter stages of its election cycle, the refusal to concede defeat by supporters and leaders of the incumbent, A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition, has seen the coalition squander its opportunity to be a respected opposition in the election’s aftermath.
Four months have passed since Guyana’s March 2 regional and national elections, with no winner legally and formally declared through free, fair, and transparent means. The longevity of the political crisis has drawn criticism from important international and regional partners, such as the United States, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Commonwealth of Nations, and most notably, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
The latest incident, in a series of unnecessary events, has come from an injunction filed by an APNU+AFC supporter to stop the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) – the statutory body responsible for declaring a winner – from declaring the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) party and its presidential candidate, Dr. Irfan Ali the election’s winner.
The APNU+AFC supporter filed the injunction arguing that GECOM has not taken into account the coalition’s concerns over the validity of votes. The APNU+AFC coalition claims that throughout the recount process, evidence of ghost voting had been uncovered, leading to the party’s calls to discount votes they consider as not valid. However, the coalition’s claims are unsubstantiated and have been settled internationally, regionally, and domestically, with CARICOM, other international observers, and local stakeholders in Guyana’s electoral process approving the recount as valid and credible.
Specifically, an observations report submitted by the three-person, high-level CARICOM team tasked to scrutinize Guyana’s national recount, determined that they did not “view [that] the irregularities identified, amounted to sufficient grounds to invalidate the tabulation of the votes at the recount and therefore these irregularities do not constitute sufficient grounds to challenge the integrity of the recount process.”
Therefore, based on CARICOM’s assessment—described as the most legitimate international observer by incumbent President David Granger—the PPP/C’s Dr. Irfan Ali should be the next president of Guyana. Nonetheless, efforts by the APNU+AFC coalition and its supporters partially worked. In a 2-1 ruling, Guyana’s Court of Appeals granted the injunction, which ordered that in determining the results of the elections, GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield must prepare a report based on “valid” votes—implying that the Court is partial to the APNU+AFC coalition’s attempts to discredit the election process.
After the Court of Appeals’ ruling, Lowenfield proceeded to submit an observation report that was contrary to the report by CARICOM. In his report, Lowenfield argued that based on his own assessment of “valid” votes cast—which is irrespective of the consensus reached by CARICOM and local observers—115,000 votes had to be eliminated. This reversal gave the incumbent enough votes to be declared the winner of the national elections.
After the injunction was issued and Lowenfield’s report was submitted, the PPP/C’s leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, filed an appeal to the country’s final court of appeal, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). After the initial hearing on July 1, the Court is expected to issue its verdict on July 8. Until then, the CCJ has ruled that Guyana remained without a declared winner. At the CCJ, the PPP/C, local stakeholders, and the international community expect the court to rule that Guyana’s Court of Appeal does not have the jurisdiction to issue rulings on presidential elections. The PPP/C argued that the election’s validity can only be challenged through an elections petition filed with Guyana’s High Court after a formal winner has been declared by GECOM.
The consistent roadblocks APNU+AFC coalition supporters and party leaders have set during this election cycle have decreased the credibility and trust in the coalition. Seeing as the international community and local stakeholders appear to have accepted the PPP/C party as the winner of the elections—with the party securing the majority of votes cast in the general election—the APNU+AFC will become the country’s formal opposition, with 31 of 65 parliamentary seats. Therefore, the strength of Guyana’s democratic will, in part, relies on the APNU+AFC coalition’s ability to become a credible and trustworthy opposition.
However, this possibility is becoming less likely as specific leaders within the APNU+AFC coalition erode the trust between themselves and the PPP/C, as well as with Guyana’s international and regional partners. Both parties dominate Guyana’s political system, drawing the majority of the population’s support—a breakdown in trust will further divide the country. This trust will be integral for Guyana going forward, as the country faces numerous challenges, including those associated with oil wealth and the constitutional changes needed to overhaul the elections process.
In the eyes of the international community, specifically those of CARICOM heads of government, arguments and attacks by APNU+AFC leaders against the Community’s former Chair, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley and its current, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, have diminished the coalition’s standing in CARICOM. If the party has ambitions to return to power, they will have a difficult time convincing CARICOM Heads of State that they intend to do so through free and fair electoral means.
The APNU+AFC’s declining legitimacy, as a result of its efforts to derail the elections, and the international recognition of the PPP/C as the winner have led to a few members of the coalition conceding defeat. Prime Ministerial candidate for APNU+AFC and Chairman for Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, conceded defeat, recognizing the need for the coalition to be a “formidable opposition” in parliament.
Ramjattan seems to understand, as do many in Guyana, that if the APNU+AFC coalition cannot legitimize itself as a “formidable opposition” in parliament, it will leave the PPP/C unchallenged in its policy implementations and would be guilty of further polarizing the country’s politics. At the same time, they will lose the opportunity to represent the concerns of their supporters in parliament, who regardless of the coalition’s actions, remain committed to their subscribed party.
All leaders of the APNU+AFC coalition, specifically David Granger, must concede defeat to respect the will of the Guyanese people. Surely, coalition leaders must understand that by both local and international standards, they have lost these elections, and their current actions are working against the best interest of the party. If they continue to prevent a legitimate government from taking office, they would have damaged their credibility to the extent that future prospects of holding electoral office will be greatly diminished.
Wazim Mowla is a Guyanese American graduate student at American University, a researcher for the African & African Diaspora Studies program at Florida International University, and an intern for the Permanent Mission of Antigua & Barbuda to the United States and the OAS.