|With its two-decade long absence, the return of Local Government Elections to Guyana two months ago has brought another tier of democracy to the citizenry.|
The citizens of Guyana were once again given back their right to elect the people they want to follow, the people they believe possess the tools and the skills to elevate and make their communities more liveable.
To understand what Local Government Election is, the functions of Local Government should be explained first. This system is responsible for providing many important services. Some of these responsibilities include: the improving of working and living conditions in a specific Municipality or Neighbourhood Democratic Council; encouraging and supporting local economic activities; improving the delivery of goods and services; promoting healthy social and cultural life; raising the level of awareness of citizens about their community; providing advice and supporting people in their communal activities; maintaining and protecting public property; and protecting and improving local physical surroundings through: garbage collection, cleaning of drains and parapets and the maintenance of streets etc.
Indeed, the absence of the Local Government Elections has had its effect on communities in Guyana. One effect was the stagnation of development and another; the barring of the public’s input.
It is, however, hoped that with the return of this level of independence, new ideas and ultimately a new approach, will be taken into the management of communities.
During the months leading up to the elections, there were many voter-education programmes being conducted throughout the country. However, the voter-turnout was met with much scrutiny.
Due to this, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) found itself staring down the barrel as they were being accused of not going the extra mile to educate the electors. Also, candidates/parties received their equal share of criticisms for allegedly not expanding their reach fully to the constituents.
It was also evident that many electors were not au fait with several aspects of the process which subsequently led to some confusion at various polling stations throughout elections day.
Nevertheless, Guyanese have the ability to learn from their shortcomings and will see this elections as a “try-out”. It is hoped that at the next Local Government Elections, scheduled for 2019, the populace will have a better grip and understanding of the process.
The return of the election has also created some form of competition. Some officials who sat in offices for the past two decades, were seen stepping up to the plate at the last minute, all in fear of being replaced.
Their replacements have now found themselves in a position where they too will have to deliver or be removed as well. This is a good approach in ensuring that citizens get 100 percent from their councils and it also puts the citizens in the “backseat-driver” mode.
There is always the notion that in a constituency, there is a specific person or group of persons with the potential to do more than those in power can. The return of the Local Government Elections has provided the platform for these persons to step forward and vie for these posts.
Lower Voter-turnout in 2016 than 1994’s Elections
The 2016 Local Government Elections was held in 71 Local Authority Areas, which includes 62 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and nine Municipalities – an overall total of 508 Constituencies. 149 consistencies were a “no contest”, since only one party would have expressed interest in contesting in each.
In the voter turnout results released by GECOM, some 507,584 voters were captured on the Official Voters’ List and 1,562 Polling Stations were open to facilitate voting. However, there were 239,070 votes (47.1 percent) cast in total, with 2,747 being rejected or spoilt.
The turnout figure represents a 10% increase over GECOM’s estimated figure and also represents a decrease from the 47.91% of voters who participated in the 1994 LGE.
The Local Authorities (Elections) Act was amended in 2009 to include as many people as possible, apart from political parties, to present themselves as candidates. There were 83 groups, three political parties, 63 individual candidates, and 17 voluntary groups.
According to the data that GECOM provided, the lowest turnout was recorded in the Municipality of Linden where the ruling APNU+AFC coalition had secured 15 of the 16 council seats. In that municipality, only 8,279 or 35.15 percent of the 23,880 registered voters took part in the elections.
Georgetown, whose council is now being dominated by the coalition, recorded the second lowest voter turnout at 37.66 percent.
Of the 112,364 registered voters, only 42,313 casted their ballots. This represented a 4% increase on the 33.37% of voters who participated in the 1994 LGE in Georgetown.
Youths and the Local Government Elections
The Mayor and City Council of Georgetown also went through a change in its council. The Deputy Mayor, Patricia Chase-Green moved up to the position of Mayor as her predecessor Hamilton Greene, retired.
This paved the way for the young and vibrant, Sherrod Duncan, to obtain the position of Deputy Mayor who, to some extent, is being applauded for his efforts and his dream of making the city, the gem of the Caribbean.
One can safely say, that the return of the elections has clearly cemented the path for youths to enter into the political area. One such youth is 19-year-old Maxine Ann Welch, the new Deputy Mayor of Lethem and not forgetting, the youngest City Councillor, 23-year-old Akeem Winslow Cennick Peter.
There have been numerous calls to get more youths to contest in the Local Government Elections. There have been also, countless letters being written to the local media saying that the youths have the power yet they refuse to step up to the plate.
However, now that the newly elected young Councillors, Mayors and Deputies have taken up their posts and have begun to wield their constitutional-invested powers in the best interest of their constituencies, eyes are beginning to open and spirits are being lifted. It is hoped that with the next Local Government Elections, Guyana will see more youths contesting.
The 2016 Local Government Elections has also created history. Thirty-five year old Gifford Marshall was elected the first Mayor of the Bartica Mayor and Town Council with Kamal Persaud being elected Deputy Mayor.
Bartica was officially declared Guyana’s seventh town just recently, as more than 15,000 flooded the avenues soaking in the celebration.