Statement by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, Permanent Representative of Guyana, on the Post-Election Situation at the Special Session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States -- Washington DC, January 13, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Assistant Secretary General, Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives and Observers, Representatives of Permanent and Observer Missions, Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

I want to express my thanks to the Chairman of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Albert Ramdin of Surinam, for so kindly acceding to the request of the Permanent Mission of Guyana to call this special meeting of the Permanent Council. I also take this opportunity to congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, on your assumption of the Chairmanship of this body, and offer my Mission's total cooperation to you as you take up your most challenging task.

Mr. Chairman, I wish, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Guyana, to inform the Organization of American States about events in the country following the recently concluded General and Regional elections held on December 15, 1997.

As you are no doubt aware, the elections were won by the ruling party, the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic). The official results were announced by the Chairman of the independent Elections Commission on Tuesday December 30, 1997. The PPP/Civic won 55.26 percent of the votes cast while the main opposition party, the People's National Congress (PNC), won 40.55 percent. It is worthwhile to note that Guyana's electoral system is based on Proportional Representation. Five days after the elections, the Chairman of the Elections Commission had declared the PPP/Civic presidential candidate, Mrs. Janet Jagan, as the winner of the Presidency. President Janet Jagan has since appointed her Cabinet and the Government is fully functioning.

Mr. Chairman . . .

With the death of President Cheddi Jagan on March 6, 1997, his widow, Mrs Janet Jagan, was named the PPP/Civic's Presidential candidate. Mrs Jagan is a political figure in her own right and has served as Minister of Health and Minister of Home Affairs of Dr Jagan's first Government during the period, 1957 to 1964. Mrs Jagan also served as Guyana's acting Permanent Representative to the United Nations during the 48th Session of the UN General Assembly. More recently, after President Jagan's death, Mrs Jagan assumed the post of Prime Minister and First Vice President.

Nine other political parties contested the December 15 elections, with the main opposition Party, the PNC, being led by Mr. Desmond Hoyte. The run-up to the elections was relatively peaceful. As in the 1992 elections, Guyana benefitted once again from the presence of international observers, this time from the Organization of American States (OAS), the Commonwealth, the International Foundation of Electoral System (IFES) and the Guyana-based Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB).

Elections were conducted in a most peaceful atmosphere. When polling closed, all the ballot boxes were counted at the local polling places in the presence of international and local observers and the representatives of all political parties. All political parties and observer groups were provided with identical tally sheets of the preliminary count and each of them knew by the next day which party had won the elections based on the preliminary count at the places of poll.

Based on the electoral regulations, the Returning Officers and presiding officers in the ten administrative regions were required to relay the documents of the results of the preliminary count to the Elections Commission headquarters in Georgetown. Preliminary results based on counting of ballots at the place of poll indicated a PPP/Civic victory. The official count for all regions was unchallenged except for one region where faulty documentation delayed transmission of the results. Actually, most of the faulty documentation came from the local presiding officers of the polling stations in the capital, Georgetown.

In order to dispel doubts, the Chairman of the Elections Commission agreed to commence a verification process and invited all political parties which contested the elections to participate in the process. Three attempts at verification were made, but this process was considerably delayed. This was largely due to the fact that the opposition PNC walked out on these three occasions from the verification exercise.

The PPP/Civic, throughout the count and verification process, had maintained an unassailable lead and a declaration under the Constitution was made, naming Mrs Jagan the Presidential winner. There is no provision for all the votes to be verified before a declaration is made as regards the winner. She was shortly after sworn in as President of the Republic of Guyana by the Chancellor of the Judiciary, as required by the Constitution of Guyana. After she was sworn in, Mr. Hoyte's PNC petitioned the Court to nullify the Election Commission Chairman's declaration of Mrs Jagan's winning of the Presidency.

With regard to the PNC's petition in the Court, the Government of Guyana held the opinion that this matter fell outside the purview of legal enquiry, according to specific provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana. This position was upheld by the Chief Justice yesterday.

Mr. Chairman . . .

While attempts were being made by the Elections Commission to verify the results in the one region whose presiding officers failed to provide proper documentation of the preliminary count, the PNC -led opposition mounted a mob rampage outside of the Commission and through the business sector of the capital. Since then, these so-called protesters, who now include criminal elements, as attested to by the Commissioner of Police, have been mounting illegal demonstrations in Georgetown which currently is in a stage of tension. The Commissioner declared on January 10 that the demonstrations were by no means peaceful since they were making little children fearful. He added that the demonstrators were also verbally abusing people, banging on doors and ordering people to vacate buildings.

The Election Assistance Bureau (EAB), the Guyanese independent election monitoring group, has also stated that it was concerned that criminal elements have also been taking advantage of the PNC protest marches in the city to indulge in beatings, theft, destruction of property, harassment and other threatening behavior, all of which were contributing to creating tension.

THE Government has called on all Guyanese to come out publicly and emphatically against the unacceptable decline into lawlessness by ongoing street protests by the PNC in Georgetown. They are being urged to identify themselves with civic and other initiatives actually taking place to restore confidence in law and order in Georgetown. The Government is concerned over the increasingly lawless character of the street protests. These now include harassment, intimidation of public servants, invasion of private and commercial property, open threats against individuals and entities and invasion of school premises. We are certain that all law-abiding Guyanese of all political persuasions will reject the lawless character of the protests and condemn the highly visible and identified leaders of the opposition party for their extreme forms of behavior. Attacks, following threats to individuals, business places and commercial entities, and the carrying out of these threats are clearly acts of terrorism. Fundamentally, it is the intimidation and the creation of an environment of fear and insecurity that falls well within the operations of terrorists and in which they seek to subvert the established order.

It is unfortunate that some anti-government media houses contribute to an escalation of tensions and provocation by open incitement and peddling untrue information and half truths which are intended to inflame the situation.

Initially, Mr. Chairman, the PNC claimed that its demonstration outside of the Commission was to protest the slow verification process, but subsequently when that party walked out from the process, it changed its position to say that the Commission had rigged the elections in favor of the PPP/Civic. Mr. Hoyte is yet to provide meaningful evidence to substantiate his claim. (It is worthy to note that Mr. Hoyte was a leader over a PNC regime that ruled Guyana up to 1992 for a period of over 25 years -- a period which was characterized by rigged totally elections condemned by the international community).

Mr. Hoyte, the Leader of the PNC, has publicly declared that he would not accept the results of the elections and that he will make the country "ungovernable" by embarking on a civil disobedience campaign.

Mr. Hoyte has also appealed to the security forces not to obey instructions from the President, thus encouraging mutiny. Also, in an obvious appeal to racial solidarity and the promotion of racism, he referred to the members of the security forces as the "kith and kin" of the PNC. Some of the street protesters have also been openly calling for the violent overthrow of the Government.

Mr. Chairman . . .

Having witnessed the entire exercise beginning from the early hours of the morning on elections day including the counting of votes at the Polling Stations, when the exercise ended, the International Observers were all positive in their comments with respect to the conduct of the poll.

The Commonwealth Observer Group said that: "As a result of our observations on polling day, we concluded that the voters were freely able to express their will".

The Commonwealth Group went on to add that "We have noted that there are reports of dissatisfaction with the results. We know that there are provisions within the laws of Guyana for these issues to be resolved".

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) for its part complemented Guyana on what is described as an "honest, transparent, peaceful, orderly and professionally managed 1997 elections". The Head of the delegation added that:"This was one of the very free elections we have observed in which there were no difficulties with the list".

The OAS in its initial comments on the results said that the "process was transparent". "What we have observed is that the actual voting process has been free and fair".

On behalf of my Government, I urge the OAS Observer Mission to issue at least a preliminary report on the elections as an urgent necessity.

The Guyana-based Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) in an interim statement said it considered "the procedures employed at the polls as reflecting impartiality" and that "voting was done in a unrestricted manner, with the secrecy of the ballot not being compromised".

Commenting on the faulty documentation of the preliminary results by presiding officers in the Georgetown polling districts, the EAB said that " . . . there was an unbelievable breakdown in arrangements for the transmission of results. . . Instructions for administering these arrangements appear to have been either altered, countermanded or in some cases were non-existent."

It is precisely this situation that the PNC sought to exploit and made the unwarranted allegation of the so-called "elections rigging" in favor of the PPP/Civic thus challenging the integrity of the ballot boxes.

It is important to emphasize that the counting of the votes at the Polling Stations in the presence of foreign and local observes was critical to maintaining the integrity and purity of the electoral process and consequently to the PPP/Civic winning the majority of the votes cast. Further, the security of the ballot boxes was under the control of the Police Force. It is interesting to note that roughly 90 percent of the members of security forces, which include the Police, voted for the opposition PNC. They had voted one week before the elections and their votes were counted separately.

Obviously, Mr. Chairman, we are concerned that the PNC has decided that it would not accept the wishes of the majority of the Guyanese people. The PNC decided that it would not accept any results except one that said it was the winner. It will be recalled that even before the elections, when opinion polls were showing the the ruling party having a big lead, the opposition party tried to delay the elections by, first of all, asking the court to rule on the proper designation of the PPP/Civic on the ballot papers, and then, secondly, expressing opposition to where the ballot papers were being printed. On election day, while most parties stated that they would abide by the results of the poll, the PNC declared that it would not accept any "outrageous" result. Then, as we noticed, it began to mount protests against the results even before these results were announced.

The Government is very concerned about the adverse political and social consequences if tensions continue and recourse is had to conflict. Travel advisories issued by the United States and Britain in recent days can have negative repercussions on the Guyanese economy.

It is important to note that throughout the period the security forces have guaranteed the peace. In this regard, the Government has expressed its total confidence in the ability and preparedness of the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force.

The Government of Guyana is deeply committed to the building of national unity, peace and stability. Accordingly, it has agreed to a proposal from the Private Sector Commission that a firm of international standing be invited to conduct an audit of all circumstances surrounding the conduct of the elections. The Government of Guyana has also accepted an offer from the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to assist in the audit. The Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have welcomed this acceptance of the audit by the Guyana Government and have all stated that it will be a great assurance for the development of democracy in Guyana. However, so far, the PNC has not yet agreed to the proposal, but it is hoped that this position will be changed.

Meanwhile, the PNC has continued its daily street protests without the permission of the police. These actions have brought about a tense situation in the capital. The protests have now deteriorated into forms of terrorism being inflicted by the participants on people in Georgetown. On January 5, 1998, the campaign of terrorism was stepped up when a television station was bombed. A security guard working there was critically injured and has subsequently died. Then on January 6, 1998 a bomb attack was made on a leading hotel in the capital.

Mr. Chairman . . . With regard to the matter raised by the PNC in the Court, the Chief Justice yesterday upheld the view of the Government, thereby throwing out the PNC's petition . No doubt dissatisfied over the ruling of the Chief Justice, the mob of PNC supporters who had noisily gathered in front of the court, immediately went on a rampage through the commercial district. They violently attacked and robbed a number of peaceful citizens, destroyed motor vehicles, and looted and damaged a number of stores. Some policemen were beaten by the mob which also threw rocks at some Government buildings, including the Office of the President. The opposition party has shown that it is unwilling to accept the decision of the electorate and of the Court and has goaded its supporters to commit acts of lawlessness and terrorism.

These acts of violence and terrorism carried out by opposition elements must be condemned in the harshest manner by all governments and the international community as a whole.

I must now inform you that in an effort to maintain peace and order, the Government last evening declared under the Public Order Act that all public meetings and demonstrations in Georgetown have been prohibited for one month, beginning today.

As early as December 22, 1997, the Permanent Mission of Guyana made a request to the OAS, through the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, to take the initiative to mediate in the Guyana situation. The OAS has since responded that it is monitoring the situation. The Guyana Government wants to place on record its appreciation of the role of Ambassador Joseph Edmunds, who coordinated the OAS Observer Mission in Guyana, for the initiatives he took while in Guyana to try to bring an end to the impasse and to help to reduce tensions.

I am aware, Mr. Chairman, that some Governments may see the current problems as purely internal and must be solved by Guyanese political forces. While I agree that political issues should be solved by the Guyanese political and social organizations, the current situation threatens to escalate and to destroy all the democratic gains of our society. Such an eventuality will no doubt have a negative effect on regional and hemispheric security.

I do not feel that member states of this Organization should stand by and allow democracy in Guyana to be threatened by people who resort to lawlessness. The overwhelming majority of the people of Guyana want peace and stability and, thus, a peaceful solution to any existing political problems. However, issues cannot be properly resolved when the Government is besieged by forces which are not interested in the upholding of the democratic process.

The Government of Guyana also stands ready to discuss whatever diplomatic initiative that may be deemed appropriate within a bilateral and/or multilateral context that would seek to uphold the principles of preventive diplomacy, democracy, good governance and the rule of law in Guyana.

In this context, the Guyana Government welcomes initiatives by current CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell of Grenada and CARICOM Secretary General, Mr Edwin Carrington, for a three-member regional mission expected in Guyana tomorrow.

The mission is to hold talks at the political and other levels in order to create conditions favorable to the promotion of Guyana's democratic process. The Government is ready to receive this mission and, if necessary, to welcome another mission of Caribbean leaders to act upon the current unsettled situation.

The Government of Guyana sincerely hopes that those who find it difficult to accept and abide by the wishes of the electorate will soon come around to ending their politics of race-hate, intimidation, disruption and violence, and for Guyanese to engage instead in meaningful dialogue in an atmosphere of harmony and peace.

I also take this opportunity to thank all governments and international institutions and agencies that have already identified themselves with our popularly and fairly elected Government and have indicated their willingness to work with us for our mutual interest.

Thank you.