IS there a lesson for CARICOM and its members in the unfolding political drama in Guyana? And is the oil bonanza recently discovered there to be blamed for the current crisis?
The oil discovery seems to have deepened ethnic divisions in Guyana and may also have exacerbated tensions in the March 2 General Elections.
The country’s Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire ruled last Sunday that the declaration of results for Region 4, the largest electoral district, were null and void.
The main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) secured an injunction to prevent the outcome of the elections from being declared until the legal process of verification of results in Region 4 was completed.
The counting resumed as per the court ruling on Thursday morning, but was soon suspended – yet again – this time to allow the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, to read the Chief Justice’s written judgement.
In the meantime, a Contempt of Court action was taken against the Returning Officer for Region 4 after deciding to resume the count using a controversial spreadsheet, instead of the Statements of Poll as required by the country’s election laws.
The world’s newest oil-rich nation is still gripped in legal and political warfare after the elections, which has cast a pall over it and is now threatening to return Guyana to the bad old days of open racial conflict.
As the New York Times puts it: “The discovery of an enormous oil deposit off the coast of Guyana was meant to catapault this tiny country into the top echelons of petroleum producers and put its citizens on the path to better lives. Instead it has deepened the historical tensions shackling the nation, leaving some Guyanese afraid that the newfound wealth will subvert the country’s fragile democracy and wipe out other industries, as happened in neighbouring Venezuela.”
And that is the decisive question: How can Guyana be stopped from descending into a Venezuela-type situation that may undermine its democracy? And what role can CARICOM play in seeing that this does not happen, bearing in mind that neither one of the two main political parties seems willing to concede?
One certainty is that the political party that finally comes out as the winner will be the one in charge of the country when the oil money begins to flow this year.
The reality is: neither of the parties wants to be on the side lines when that money begins to flow. But in politics, (meaning General Elections) there are no second-place winners. It’s a winner takes all scenario. There is no sharing of the pie, so to speak. Hence the turmoil today.
Then there is the ethnic factor dividing the two largest groups in the country, of Indian and African descent, which also played a big role in the March 2 elections.
With both political parties claiming victory, conceding defeat appears not to be an option for either at this time.
The question is: What’s next? The Chief Justice nay have ordered a transparent recount of the votes in Region 4. But would, whichever becomes the losing party, concede defeat, seeing that it already said or believed it won?
Avoiding a protracted political crisis is where all energies should be directed. CARICOM was in Georgetown trying to influence a solution through its Chairperson Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and the Prime Ministers of Dominica, Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Their interventions will be very important in the search for a solution.
CARICOM must continue to take the lead in the search for a solution to the Guyana crisis, as its prolonged extension would not augur well for Guyana, despite its newly found oil wealth.