There were three distinct markers about the 2018 local government elections that poll watchers and analysts will be mulling. The first, of course, would have been the performance of the main contenders. Incumbents don’t generally fare well at any type of mid-term election be it local government or otherwise so the poor return to APNU could possibly be mitigated in that vein. However, the margin of the loss by APNU to the PPP/C - 61% to 34% will be of great worry to Congress Place. While the turnout across the country was dismal, the PPP/C was able to mobilise a much higher number of voters to go to the polling stations which speaks to grass roots machinery and organisation. With General Elections less than two years away and the stakes rolling higher and higher as the days go by, the PPP/C will have enough grist for its mill and its supporters will be kept primed for voting.
Deep into the fourth year of its governance, APNU was not able to inspire voters, particularly in its pivotal base of Georgetown – 28% went to the polls - to cast their ballots. This was no doubt compounded by the reality that the grass roots network of APNU’s main constituent, the PNCR is not as entrenched as that of the PPP/C. As was pointed out in last Sunday’s editorial, the lacklustre turnout by APNU supporters saw the PPP/C capturing three constituency seats in Georgetown for a total of seven seats compared to the paltry two seats it won in 2016. Whereas APNU+AFC won 25 seats at the city council in 2016 as a coalition, contesting separately at these elections, the two groups are now down to 23 with APNU gaining 21 and the AFC two seats. The coalition is not at risk of losing control of the city but the PPP/C has gained a psychological boost. The configuration at the council as a result of the 2018 election aligns more with the reality. In the 1994 local government elections, the Hamilton Green faction of the PNC captured twelve seats, the Hoyte PNC 10 seats and the PPP/C eight seats.
The poor turnout for APNU in Georgetown could very well explain the now overt signals from the government that goodies are on the way and in a sustained way. The Finance Minister Winston Jordan has made bold to say that there will be increases for government workers in 2018, 2019 and 2020 when such a pronouncement can hardly be in his province particularly in the context of a coalition government and moreso in light of the tight financial circumstances likely up until 2020. The urgency to placate the government’s base was also underlined by the gazetting on Friday of regulations for a tax-free wages and salary increase for 2018 to public servants and public officers. This is all quite unconscionable when one considers that workers in the productive sector, the sugar industry have not been considered for any type of improvement in conditions.
APNU’s loss of the towns of Lethem and Mabaruma to the PPP/C should be alarming to the governing parties. The government pioneered these two towns and poured resources into their development along with the usual blandishments. Yet, its citizens gave victory to the PPP/C. Some deep level of disaffection has filtered through these towns and may have to do with the way APNU+AFC has related to these communities.
There is one other point to be made about the performance of the parties at these elections. APNU’s decision to cut the AFC loose by denying it an accord for the 2018 LGE has delivered the expected wipeout of the AFC. No matter the spin by its leaders, the AFC, currently holding 12 seats in Parliament, has been reduced to the veritable ‘lef lef’. The electorate doesn’t see it as a third party anymore or one that has a hint of independence from APNU. It lost this cachet when it unthinkingly supported the unilateral appointment of a chairman of GECOM. It won’t be seen as a foil for the PPP/C in the future or a haven for independents or the swing vote. Space has now been carved open for genuine independents or a third party to prepare for entry to the 2020 electoral race.
The second marker is the performance of GECOM at the elections. From all indications, it was able to effectively manage the arrangements leading up to the elections notwithstanding the internal frictions. It was able to preside over the nomination day events even if there was jousting over the rectitude of the process at Whim/ Bloomfield and other places. Ballot papers were produced for the dozens of different constituencies all across the country and elections materiel was channelled to the hundreds of polling stations. There have been no sustained complaints about names of voters not being found on their designated lists. There was sufficient and trained staff for polling day and the counting processes were completed
without incident. The machinery worked. Despite assurances, however, from GECOM, official results were released late even though the largest local authority area, Georgetown reported promptly. Concerns have since been raised about violations of procedures for the casting of proxy ballots at Mabaruma. This must be thoroughly investigated and the Returning Officer (RO) brought to account. Were there adequate instructions to all RO’s on this matter?
GECOM gets passing marks for the elections and must now begin preparing for the general elections and addressing questions such as the size of the national register of registrants and how it is to be purged of the names of those who are dead or no longer eligible to vote. The 2020 general elections will be closely watched as it should be and hopefully by observers of the various institutions that have kept watch over the years. Adequate preparations must be made to cover vital areas such as information technology and the reporting of results. An urgent determination has to be made about electoral needs and GECOM must re-engage with the UN system on what help is possible.
The third marker is the opening of the landscape for the selection of the PPP/C’s presidential candidate. Having led the PPP/C to a win at the Local Government Elections, Opposition Leader Jagdeo now faces the imperative of reconciling that role with the need to create space for the PPP/C to elect its presidential nominee and to give that person wide berth between now and 2020. The health of the politics of this country requires that the PPP/C completes the process of choosing a candidate eligible to become President. That candidate must be able to command the confidence of the members of the party and the wider public in the ability to advance an agenda for the good governance of the country and the development challenges that will come with the oil and gas industry.