Rude Awakening for Politicians
An opinion poll conducted in October by Dr. Vishnu Bisram for the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) finds that the population is losing confidence in the handling of the nascent oil industry. Politicians are out for a rude awakening if they think they can continue to fool the nation on oil. The nation is also losing faith in Guyana Elections
Commission (Gecom), the chairperson in particular, to hold credible elections. The poll further finds that people are losing confidence in the political parties to economically, socially, and politically transform Guyana that is on the cusp of becoming a major oil-producing nation. They say politicians make promises to win votes and when they get into office most promises become unfulfilled. The poll suggests that the population is increasingly losing trust in politicians viewing them as prone to corruption and other vices, and they are losing hope that the parties can improve peoples’ lives.
People see a bleak future pointing to government’s (politicians) reluctance to reopen negotiations on the oil contract that provides a potential for government to more than quadruple revenues that will fund development, create jobs, and eradicate poverty. They overwhelmingly want government to revisit the oil contract.
The poll reveals that the population is disengaged and tuned out from politics because of the endless bickering between the two major political forces (parties) following last December’s no confidence vote and the failure of Gecom to constitutionally prepare the nation for timely elections that were due last March. Many voters say they want to punish the two major forces (parties). And a majority of the population feels it is best for the country that neither major party (force) be rewarded with a majority of seats in parliament so that there can be an effective balance of power in parliament to hold any government accountable. In fact, the findings of the poll reveal that neither major party (force) is attracting majority support, and if elections were held now there would be a hung parliament.
The youths are disillusioned with the government’s failure to fulfill promised economic opportunities. And in general, people complain about almost every issue including rising joblessness, poverty, prices, and corruption and the government’s handling of the developing oil industry. They feel the country is cheated on oil royalties and revenues. As small as the oil revenues are, people feel oil funds should be used to create jobs and help the poor in the struggling economy. They also express a lack of confidence in the future of the country saying ‘things not going well’.
The voters complain that they wield no influence in the party they support and or in its selection of (Presidential, Prime Ministerial and parliamentary) candidates. They don’t feel this is good for democracy describing their party as having ‘authoritarian’ instincts. This is contributing to rising political apathy with many potential voters saying the presidential candidates are not inspiring to encourage them to go to polling stations to cast ballots. They express a wish for the parties to have better candidates to motivate them to vote and or to join the campaign. Voters say they will cast ballots ‘against’ (rather than for) a party or candidate.
The poll interviewed 740 likely voters at random to represent the varied demographics of the population (39 Indians, 30% Africans, 20% Mixed, 10% Amerindians, and 1% other ethnic groups). The findings have a margin of error of 4%.
So many voters expressed disappointment in the behavior of AFC in the governing coalition, but it still attracts support. Asked if AFC should get the Prime Ministerial slot in its coalition with APNU, 38% of respondents said yes, 41% no, and 21% unsure or offered no response. Many feel if AFC does not get the PM position, then it should contest the elections on its own saying it may recover its “balance of power” reputation and regain some seats in such a situation.
Asked if they approve of the job Gecom chair (Ret’d Justice Claudette Singh) has been doing, 39% said yes, 52% said no, and 9% offered no response. This is a significant drop in confidence in the chair from August when two thirds supported her appointment. Some felt the Chair seems ‘unsure’ of what she is doing with conflicting (and reversing) decisions. On whether they trust Gecom to hold free and fair elections, 40% said yes, 52% no, and 8% not sure. Many voters commented that Gecom and or the Chair, “sell out’, dey get buy out” without offering evidence. Clearly, Gecom needs to build trust in the country’s electoral process.
The nation is divided on which party they think will win the election. They feel no party will win a majority of seats in parliament. And they also say that it is best for the country that no party wins the election with a majority. They feel that a lack of parliamentary majority (a plurality victory) will force cooperation among the parties to run a government in the interests of the people rather than in the interests of a select few of one major party (force). In addition, they feel a government lacking a majority will be held accountable by (responsible) members of parliament that are determined to serve the interests of the nation and unite the badly fractured nation.
However, when asked if all opposition parties should unite under an agreed upon (consensus) leader of credibility and integrity to contest against the ruling coalition, 56% said yes, 37% no, and 7% not sure. When asked if such an alliance will win the March 2020 elections, 59% said yes, 33% said no, and 8% not sure. Also, the poll finds a significant number of voters expressing a preference for the minor parties to coalesce and form an alliance to contest the elections against the two political juggernauts. Voters are confident that such an alliance will prevent either major force (party) from winning a majority of seats, and that it will most certainly hold the balance of power forcing the (plurality) winner to govern responsibly. When asked if it is positive for the country that neither PPP nor APNU+AFC to win a majority of seats to run the country alone, 58% said yes, 31% no, and 11% not sure. This shows a lack of trust in both major parties (forces) to govern alone.
In terms of popular support for the parties, the poll finds that no party has majority support. Nearly a seventh of the potential voters (traditional supporters of PPP and PNC and those who supported AFC) are undecided on how they will vote, turned off by the parties or candidates. More PPP than PNC supporters say they are not motivated or inspired to vote and some who traditionally supported both parties are giving thought of voting for the minor parties this time around. This will make it an interesting election resulting in a hung parliament that has not been since the 1992 election.
It will take something extraordinary to make disgruntled voters turn up at polling booths to cast ballots for either of the major parties that have failed to consult with them on candidate selection. There are too many disillusioned voters who are now unaligned and prepared to break from the politics of the past where populist leaders feel people will vote for any crapaud candidate they put. Parties may get a rude awakening in the election results permanently damaging their future.