BY AMBASSADOR ODEEN ISHMAEL, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF GUYANA TO THE OAS,
AT THE SPECIAL MEETING OF THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE OAS TO COMMEMORATE
THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE OAS RESOLUTION ON REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY -
Washington DC, March 26, 2001.
Posted March 26th. 2001
I must thank you for the efforts you have made in arranging this special session of the Permanent Council for us to reflect on some major decisions of the OAS with respect to the promotion and defense of democracy in this hemisphere.
One of these major decisions taken by the OAS ten years ago was the passing of the Resolution on Representative Democracy, well-known as Resolution 1080. This Resolution set a benchmark on how each nation of this hemisphere must adhere to democratic principles in order to win respect and international moral recognition from other nations of this hemisphere.
This Resolution adopted in Santiago Chile, and the terms of the Protocol of Washington, another significant decisive document of the OAS, can in reality be termed the "democratic clause" that qualifies and governs relations among the member-states of this hemispheric Organization.
Both the 1080 Resolution and the Washington Protocol provide a firm warning and deterrence to any political or extra-political group that threatens the democratic political order in any state in this hemisphere since they state unambiguously that no government which comes to power through the illegal disruption of the democratic process, such as a military coup or the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government, will ever be given recognition by the OAS.
The commemoration of the anniversary of the passing of Resolution 1080 comes at a significant time in the history of my own country. Last Monday, March 19, the people of Guyana held the third democratic elections since our independence in 1966. For emphasis, it is the third one since October 1992. However, as occurred in 1992, 1997 and currently, there are forces which cannot and would not accept the democratic process, and are using non-legal measures to hold the elected government to ransom.
For information purposes, I wish to state that the President Bharrat Jagdeo, with his party, the People's Progressive Party-Civic (PPP/C), was re-elected with 53 percent of the total votes. The main opposition party, the People's National Congress-Reform (PNC/R) and its candidate, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, obtained 42 percent of the votes.
The elections were conducted by an independent Elections Commission and witnessed by a number of international bodies, including the OAS. As a matter of interest, it must be noted that our Elections Commission is made up of a Chairman and six members. Three of them are representatives of the Government and the other three are representatives of the Opposition. The Chairman is nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. In the management of the March 19 elections, all decisions were arrived at unanimously by the members of the Commission. But despite their declaration of the results of the elections, the main opposition party, the PNC/R, filed a motion in the courts to prevent the swearing in of the President a few hours before the ceremony on Friday last. This motion is at this very moment being heard before the Chief Justice of Guyana.
Meanwhile, an air of tension pervades many parts of the country. Such tension is a fertile breeding ground for rumours which inject fear in the minds of the ordinary people. The spreading of hostile rumours, as I indicated when we discussed the Guatemalan situation in this chamber a few weeks ago, amounts to what I termed as "psychological terrorism".
Last Friday, some persons apparently dissatisfied over the elections results blocked roads and vandalized public property but the police managed to restore order. On Saturday last, an opposition member on the elections Commission who publicly declared that the results of the elections were accurate and could stand all scrutiny, was badly beaten up by his own party supporters at his party headquarters in Georgetown. Such action gives the impression that some forces are not willing to accept the democratic decision of the people. The main Opposition party has since made a statement condemning the physical attack on the Election Commissioner. It is hoped that good sense will prevail and that all political parties will display sensible leadership so that a situation of peace and tranquility can be quickly restored.
In the case of my country, the Opposition must represent its supporters by acting in a responsible manner and providing checks and balances to the Government through the parliamentary process. It must also participate in positive ways to work with the Government in developing programs which will be beneficial to its constituents.
President Jagdeo has already stated that his new administration will be inclusive and is ready to work out modalities for the participation of the Opposition parties in the Government. It is hoped that the Opposition, particularly the main opposition party, will reach out to clasp the hand of friendship and inclusiveness offered by the President.
I take this opportunity to urge the OAS, all its member states, and the international community as a whole, to support the democratic process in Guyana and to urge all political parties to establish lines of cooperation which can surely assist in the growth of a healthy democratic culture in the country. At the same time this Organization and the international community must roundly condemn any act that undermines the democratic process in the country.
Mr. Chairman, I have consistently pointed out in this Permanent Council, and also in the Summit Implementation Review Group meetings, that democracy is not just only implemented by Governments. Opposition parties in all our countries also have a primary role in the process since they also aspire to achieve administrative power. However, if there are political groups that want to achieve such power by non-constitutional means, their existence and actions present a direct threat to democracy in this hemisphere. They must reform themselves and accept and practice democratic behaviour.
While Resolution 1080 helps to defend democracy, its fundamental weakness is that it can be applied only after a threat of destabilization reduces the effectiveness of the democratically elected government and eventually forces it from power against the wishes of the electorate. The question the OAS must now ask itself is this: Must it sit back while a democratic government is pressured by forces which act contrary to democracy; or should it help to develop forms of preventive diplomacy, including the application of conflict-resolution mechanisms, to defend such a democratic government against the forces of destabilization?