THE DECEMBER 1964 ELECTIONS
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The general elections were held on Monday 7 December 1964. There was a massive turn-out of voters, and 97 percent of those registered voted by the time the polls closed at 6.00 p.m. Most Guyanese stayed up during the night to listen to the results as they were broadcast on radio, and it was clear by the following morning that the PPP would win the highest number of votes. The final results announced by the Elections Commission on the evening of 8 December, showed the PPP winning 109,352 votes, the PNC 96,567 and the UF 26,612. The splinter parties did not do well; GUMP managed to obtain only 1,194 votes, the JP 1,334, PEPP 224 and NLF 177.
Since the elections were conducted under the new system of proportional representation, the amount of votes acquired by each party was also very significant. Despite winning the elections with the highest amount of votes, the PPP's proportion was 45.8 percent. The PNC won 40.5 percent while the UF obtained 12.4 percent. When compared with the 1961 elections, the PPP was the only party which actually increased its overall proportion of the votes, and under the previous constituency system, the PPP would have easily retained its majority of seats. The despondent PPP supporters naturally felt that their party was cheated, and in all areas of PPP support in the country the slogan "cheated but not defeated" was loudly voiced.
In the new 53-member legislature, the PPP was allocated 24 seats, the PNC 22 and the UF 7 based on the proportion of votes they won. With just under 46 per cent of the votes, the PPP fell short of the required majority of seats by three. On the other hand, the opposition parties together had a clear majority of seats.
Immediately after the official results were announced, Dr. Jagan tried to obtain the support of Burnham and the PNC to form a coalition government. He showed that the PPP and the PNC together polled 87 percent of the votes and that the Guyanese people would overwhelmingly support such a coalition. At the same time, such a coalition would be a giant step in the efforts to build national unity. Dr. Jagan even offered Burnham the position of Premier, but the PNC leader refused to budge from his fixed position that he would not cooperate with the PPP.
Since the PPP actually won the elections with the highest amount of votes, the party felt that it had received a vote of confidence, particularly since it was the only one that actually increased its percentage of votes since the 1961 elections. As a result Dr. Jagan refused to tender his resignation as Premier and told Governor Luyt that because the PPP had contested the elections under protest, the party would not participate in the arrangements for the setting up of a new government.
Luyt had all intention of excluding the PPP from such arrangements and he refused to follow the established convention of asking Dr. Jagan, the leader of the party with the highest amount of votes, to continue in the government. Instead, he met with Burnham who had informed him that he would obtain the support of the UF with which he was trying to work out a coalition agreement.
However, Luyt and the British Government faced a dilemma; they knew that Dr. Jagan was not obliged to resign as Premier since his party had not actually lost the elections. At a meeting with Luyt, soon after the results were announced, Dr. Jagan emphasised this position and reminded him that British parliamentary norms required that the leader of the party that won the highest number of votes should be called upon the form the new government. But the British government was determined to get rid of Dr. Jagan, and Luyt, on instructions from London, refused bluntly to comply with the constitutional norms since this would upset the plan to install Burnham in power.
Confronted with this impasse, Anthony Greenwood, the British Colonial Secretary, dispatched an urgent letter to Dr. Jagan pleading with him to resign and insisting that if he did not, the situation could lead to "further bloodshed" in the country. Greenwood's letter stated: "The Governor has told me that in the course of discussions about the election result, you have expressed serious doubts about whether you and your Government should resign forthwith. I do not think that you can seriously maintain that you could get a majority in the new Assembly and I want desperately-as I am sure you do-to see stability in British Guiana. Apart from anything else I am afraid that continued uncertainty may lead to further bloodshed and unhappiness. I do ask you most earnestly to take this into account and to enable the new government to be formed. We have no wish to resort to constitutional amendment. But we should have no alternative if you obstructed the formation of a new government. This is very urgent. That is why I am making this personal approach. . ."
However, after his plea was rejected, Greenwood, immediately rushed an amendment of the Guyana constitution through the British Parliament to empower the Governor to dismiss Dr. Jagan and his Government. This amendment would thus open the way for Luyt to call upon Burnham, who had not yet received the formal support of the UF, to form a new government.
The British Government, as soon as the constitution change was made, got Queen Elizabeth to sign an Order in Council dismissing Dr. Jagan and his government. Shortly after, Luyt swore in Burnham as the new Premier and asked him to form a minority government with the promised support of the UF. Contrary to his pre-election statements, Burnham negotiated with D'Aguiar for two weeks after the elections, and just before Christmas Day, the UF finally agreed to join in a coalition government with the PNC.
The British Government had to resort to changing the Guyana constitution because it was of the view that if the PPP was asked to continue in government, a political situation would have arisen to weaken Burnham and the opposition. By not having a majority in the legislature, a PPP Government could lose a no-confidence vote brought by the opposition, and would then be forced to resign and call new elections. The British Government, as well as the American Government, feared that in such a case, new registration of voters would favour the PPP. Also, many persons who disagreed with an alliance of the PNC and the UF would have swung their votes to the PPP which might easily win over 50 percent of the votes.
The Commonwealth observers raised a number of concerns over the conduct of the December elections. They felt that the proxy voting "seemed open to manipulation" and said it was their "duty to point out that the proxy system is liable to abuse." There were 6,665 proxy votes and the PPP, even though it won 46 percent of the votes, obtained only 8.6 percent of them.
The observers also sharply castigated Luyt for disclosing just before the elections his interpretation of the constitution as to how he would proceed to call a political leader to form the government. He had stated that he would not necessarily call on the leader of the party with the highest votes. The observers felt that stating "such an intention just before the poll could influence voters against casting their votes for a party of their choice."
One member, Bakar Ali Mirza of India, in a separate memorandum, expressed concern over the state of fear that existed at the time of the elections. He wrote that most of the parties, except the PNC, complained to the observer mission about threats of violence in which the PPP said the police force was involved. Mirza stated that it was hinted that the PNC did not complain about threats because of the large proportion of Africans, generally PNC supporters, in the police force.
In the aftermath of the elections, the splinter parties disappeared from the scene, giving credence to the view that the Justice Party and the GUMP had been formed and funded by external sources, with the specific aim of helping to remove the PPP from the government.