The December 1968 Electoral Fraud

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Having been assured that the Johnson administration in the United States would not oppose its plans to rig the next elections, the PNC in 1967 decided to put its fraud machinery into motion. By this time, the PNC-UF coalition was falling apart and the PNC was taking full control of the government. To initiate the rigging process, the PNC secretly selected personnel, set up a national registration office, and began the registration of Guyanese 14 years of age and older. In so doing, it by-passed the constitutionally established Elections Commission which by law had the responsibility to direct and supervise the registration of voters and to administer the conduct of the elections.

This registration office, located on High Street, Georgetown, was ringed with barbed wire and armed security. Almost all the employees were PNC activists and the office was under the direct control of the Minister of Home Affairs, Llewellyn John.

To supervise the registration, the government hired the American firm, Shoup Registra-tion Systems International. The New York Times on 17 December 1967 reported that Shoup had previously carried out voter registrations in Trinidad, Jamaica and Venezuela, and also in South Vietnam in 1966 where a rigged voters' list was draw up for that country's much publicised fraudulent elections.

There were strong suspicions that Shoup was a CIA front to help the PNC win the elections. The New York Times queried this but reported that CIA would not comment on the allegation. However, after the elections held in December 1968, Shoup conveniently disappeared.

Elections Commission powerless

The Elections Commission at that period was chaired by a PNC loyalist, Sir Donald Jackson, and it membership was made up of representative each from the PNC, PPP, and the UF. In June 1967, shortly after the government's registration exercise began, Janet Jagan, the PPP representative, expressed fears at a meeting of the Commission that the government, by carrying out a compilation of a national register of citizens, was usurping and undermining the role of the Elections Commission.

Faced with the accusation that the government would compile the voters' list from the register prepared by Shoup, the PNC member on the Elections Commission, Desmond Hoyte, on 30 June 1967 stated adamantly at a meeting of the Commission: ". . . The National Register could not be the electoral roll. . . The compilation of the national roll was a matter for the Commission who shall 'exercise general direction and supervision over the registration of electors' . . . The Commission had nothing to do with the preparation of the National Register. Whatever might be the purpose of the Register, it certainly could not be the electoral roll. Under the constitution, the Commission alone was charged with the function of supervising the registration of electors. It followed, therefore, that a Register not prepared under the general direction and supervision of the Commission could not be a register of electors for the purpose of the constitution."

But despite this assurance from Hoyte, exactly what the PPP representative alleged was what actually happened. Names of persons 21 years and older were extracted from the National Register to form the electoral roll, and in this exercise, thousands of under-age persons were de-liberately included as "legitimate" voters. Subsequently, the government passed the National Registration Act in the National Assembly which validated the electoral roll extracted from the National Register compiled by the Shoup with the assistance of PNC activists.

By mid-1968, it was clear that the PNC had geared up its machinery to rig the upcoming general elections. Protest statements were issued by the UF which by this time had been pushed out from the coalition government. And in the light of the blatant rigging of the voter registration process to give the PNC the advantage, the PPP planned country-wide demonstrations in protest, but police permission was bluntly refused.

Prime Minister and PNC leader Forbes Burnham had earlier announced that Guyanese living in foreign countries would be allowed to vote and the necessary constitutional and electoral amendments were passed in the National Assembly. The PPP stoutly opposed this plan for overseas voting on the grounds that it would open the opportunity to the PNC to further pad the electoral roll in its electoral rigging process. The United States government was totally aware of the PNC scheme but did absolutely nothing to discourage it. Democracy could not be allowed since it might allow the re-election of the Marxist Cheddi Jagan, regarded by the Americans as one of their worst ideological foes who must be kept out from power by any means necessary.

The Elections Commission, with no control over the process, just acted to rubber-stamp the decisions handed down by the Minister of Home Affairs. In disgust, Janet Jagan, the PPP nominee, tendered her resignation before the elections. The UF representative also resigned after his party raised objections to voters' lists and the electoral arrangements including overseas voting. (Just before this, Hoyte was replaced by Fred Wills as the PNC representative).

Padding the voters' list

The elections were marked by a padded voters' list, extensive proxy voting in favour of the PNC and ballot-box tampering. Almost all the election officials were PNC members and supporters. In addition, the PNC's victory was assured by the heavy bloated overseas voters which eventually accounted for six seats in the party's total allocation after the "results" were finally announced.

The padding was reflected in the fact that for the four-year period, 1964-1968, the vot-ers' list increased by 21 percent, even though for the preceding 11-year period (1953-64) the in-crease was only 19 percent. This deliberate padding, indicated by this large increase for 1964-1968, was concentrated in areas of PNC strength. In PPP areas, the increase varied from only 6 to 10 percent, but in PNC areas like Mackenzie, Mazaruni-Potaro and Abary the increase was 189 percent, 58 percent and 49 percent respectively. In sub-districts of Abary with large PPP support, the increase was only 5 to 6 percent, but in the sub-districts with PNC supporters, the increase ranged from 50 to 100 percent. Many of the names on the voters' list were non-existent and included in it also were hundreds of under-aged and deceased persons.

With the compilation of this fraudulent voters' list, the PNC administration and its subservient Chief Elections Officer and the Elections Commission refused to provide the final list to the PPP, even though by law they should have been made available at least four days before the elections. Even after the elections, the officials refused to give a copy to the PPP.

Fraud in overseas voting

The outright fraud was documented by the Granada Television Company of the United Kingdom in two documentaries shown on its "World in Action" programme. The first, The Trail of the Vanishing Voters, shown on 9 December 1968, revealed that most of the overseas voters registered in the UK were fictitious. In a sample of 551 registered in London, it found that only 117 were real, while in a sample of 346 registered in Manchester, only 19 were genuine.

The film showed John Hughes, a PNC activist who, as a registration officer, registered 41 voters in Wolverhampton, strongly doubting that more than 200 persons were on the voters' list for that area.

Shortly after, the Guyana High Commission in London issued a statement accusing the television company of being mischievous. And in Guyana, the editor of the Evening Post newspaper was charged with public mischief for carrying Associated Press reports on the film that "two horses were grazing where Lily and Olga Barton should have been;" and "Where Gladys Porter should live, there had been a railway since 1874."

The second documentary, The Making of a Prime Minister, shown on 6 January 1969 - three weeks after the elections - declared that "a hanged man voted in the Guyana general elec-tion. So did children." It added: "The newly elected Prime Minister of Guyana, Forbes Burnham, arrives in London today for the Prime Ministers' Conference. He should not be attending."

This documentary also revealed that only 4,700 of the 11,750 registered "voters" in the United States and 13,050 of the 43,301 in the UK were real. It stated that if all the 12,550 voters registered in other parts of the world were genuine and had voted, the most generous estimate of Guyanese voters abroad should be 30,300, but 36,745 voted. The film commented: "Inescapably, at least 6,445 voters were faked, and that's being excessively cautious."

In addition, it showed an interview with Humphrey Taylor, director of Opinion Research Centre which had carried out its own independent survey. Taylor declared: "Obviously, I don't know what happened in Guyana, but as far as Britain is concerned, the compilation of the register was a totally dishonest and corrupt operation. And as we have clearly established, the great majority of the people listed do not exist. This I would think is unprecedented for a Commonwealth country, as far as I know; and it's, you know, a pretty awful and disgraceful episode."

Election day

The elections were eventually held under the system of proportional representation on 16 December 1968. The PPP had earlier lodged numerous protests to the Elections Commission and the Minister of Home Affairs over the domestic and overseas voters' lists, the abuse of proxies and the overall manner in which the elections were to be conducted. All of these protests were disregarded and the in the end, the party decided to contest the elections under protest.

Election day was very peaceful with a heavy voter turn-out, particularly in areas with strong PPP support. With the PNC in full control of the election machinery, almost all the offi-cials at voting centres were PNC activists; and in a number of cases, they denied entry to PPP agents to these places and so prevented them from observing the polling process.

Proxy voting was also shamelessly abused. Over 19,000 proxies, amounting to 3 seats, were allowed to enable the PNC to vote for dead, under-age and non-existent voters and even for legitimate voters whose names PNC activists forged on proxy forms. When they turned up to exercise their franchise, hundreds of these legitimate voters who were not sympathetic to the PNC found that their votes were already cast by proxy. Needless to say, more than 90 percent of the proxies were cast for the PNC.

In the final analysis, out of a domestic electorate of 300,500, a total of 277,501 or 92 percent voted. Of the 68,588 overseas votes registered in 29 countries, 36,745 or 54 percent were cast. The overall average turn out (both locally and overseas) was 85 percent.

After the poll closed, the Police and election officials collected and transported the ballot boxes to three counting centres in Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice. (For the 1964 elections, there were 38 counting centres - one for each electoral district). Opposition agents were pre-vented from accompanying or following the vehicles which transported the boxes which were totally under the control of the PNC activists. For long hours, opposition candidates and their counting agents were not allowed to enter the counting centres to keep a watchful eye on the ballot boxes.

Tampering of ballot boxes

What resulted was a wholesale tampering the ballot boxes after the poll closed and this guaranteed the PNC "victory". In one instance, a ballot box for the Pomeroon district, when opened in the presence of representatives of political parties, contained four parcels of ballots bound with rubber bands and all marked for the PNC! When the UF counting agent objected to the counting of these ballots, the presiding officer ordered that the ballots be replaced in the box and handed to the Police for safe keeping until he received instructions from the Chief Elections Officer in Georgetown.

Having received instructions the following day, he summoned the counting agents of the various political parties and ordered the counting of the ballots. The box was duly collected from the Police station, but when it was opened the ballots wrapped in rubber bands were no longer marked for the PNC but for the UF! However, since these ballots did not carry the official stamp of the Elections Commission, they were discarded as spoilt votes. No investigation was ever launched as to how these votes were switched overnight in the Police station.

During the vote count, several boxes were also found to contain more ballots than the number of people who voted. For example, in the Buxton area, a PNC stronghold, the final result showed a vote count amounting to 102 percent!

The "results"

The official results showed the PNC "winning" 55.6 percent, the PPP 36 percent and the UF 7 percent of the votes. The distribution of seats in the 53-member National Assembly was 30 for the PNC, 19 for the PPP and 4 for the UF.

Interestingly, the PNC "won" more than 90 percent of the "overseas votes", amounting to six seats in the National Assembly. This was expected considering the heavy padding with fictitious names. The rigged "ballots" from the United Kingdom were personally and proudly trans-ported to Georgetown from London by Guyana's High Commissioner Sir Lionel Luckhoo.

Significantly, among the first governments to send messages of congratulations to Burnham were those of the United States, the English-speaking Caribbean and the United Kingdom. In glowing platitudes extolling the victory of "democracy" in Guyana, those governments expressed firm support for the PNC administration thus giving encouragement for the perpetuation of a long period of undemocratic rule in the country.

But PPP leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan declared that the elections were an "international scandal" In a statement to the media on 18 December, he added:

"The 1968 general election was a fraud from beginning to end. There is sufficient evidence to prove that the ballot box results do not reflect the wishes of the people. . . We fought this election under protest. We wish openly to declare that we will not cooperate with this puppet regime which is committed to the betrayal of our country and people. We will now resolutely work to bring down this regime which has usurped power by foul means. We will openly oppose this puppet neo-colonialist regime; we will continue to work for a broadbased unity based on genuine patriotism, nationalism and anti-imperialism."

Even associates of Burnham and the PNC were astounded by the fraud conducted before their very eyes. United Force leader Peter D'Aguiar who helped bring Burnham and his PNC to power in 1964, stated in shock and amazement at the unbridled electoral thievery that occurred: "To call it an election is to give it a name it does not deserve; it was a seizure of power by fraud, not election." But the early epitaph of PNC electoral fraud was etched by another UF member, Randolph Cheeks, who was Minister of Local Government in the PNC-UF coalition. In an unforgettable comment he declared: "Fraud is a mild word to describe the motions which Guyana went through on December 16. . . Down the corridors of the centuries, this day will be remembered with shame."

Establishment of the Cooperative Republic

Armed with its fraudulent majority, the PNC regime, on 23 March 1969, tabled a constitutional motion in the National Assembly to proclaim Guyana as a republic, and after a period of three months, the issue was debated in August 1969. Prime Minister Burnham explained that by transferring from a monarchy to the republic in early 1970, the country would establish a unique "cooperative socialist republic" under the ideology of "cooperative socialism." He saw the establishment and growth of cooperatives performing the leading role in national development, and explained that "cooperative socialism" would make "the small man a real man".

The PPP, while firmly supporting the move to republican status and the relevant consti-tutional change, sharply criticised the idea of "cooperative socialism", arguing that it was utopian and urging the PNC and the government to adopt Marxism-Leninism, the "real scientific socialism", as the guiding ideology.

On the other hand, the UF sharply opposed the change even though the broad mass of the people was firmly supportive of the idea of becoming a republic.

It was expected that the Sir David Rose, the Guyanese Governor-General, would in due course be elected by the National Assembly to become the first titular President of the new re-public with no less powers than those held under the monarchical system. In November 1969, he went to London for meetings with British Foreign Service officials and also for an audience with Queen Elizabeth to perform the formalities of ending his service as her representative in Guyana. On 11 November, while on his way to a meeting at the Foreign Office, heavy scaffolding on a building collapsed on his car and immediately killed him. His funeral was held in Guyana the following week and Sir Edward Luckhoo was soon after named acting Governor-General.

Eventually, the republic was proclaimed in 23 February 1970, the anniversary of the Berbice slave rebellion of 1763. Sir Edward Luckhoo was sworn in as President, pending a meeting of the National Assembly to hold a formal election. The PNC government and the opposition PPP could not agree on a consensus candidate for this position; as a result, the government nominated Arthur Chung, a judge, while the PPP nominated Ashton Chase, an attorney-at-law, trade unionist and veteran politician. The National Assembly met in 17 March 1970 and Arthur Chung was elected as President by a majority vote of the PNC representatives.

29 September 2005