The October 1992 elections: The restoration of democracy in Guyana

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Immediately after President Desmond Hoyte dissolved Parliament on 29 August 1992 and announced that elections would be held on 5 October, the various political parties began their election campaign in earnest. Nomination day was just a week after this Parliament was dissolved, and parties submitted candidate lists (and their presidential candidates) for the elections to the Elections Commission. These were the two large parties, the PNC and the PPP/Civic, as well as the smaller parties, the WPA, The United Force (TUF), the Democratic Labour Movement (DLM), People's Democratic Movement (PDM), the United Republic Party (URP), the National Republican Party (NRP), United Workers' Party (UWP), Union of Guyanese International (UGI), and the National Democratic Front (NDF). The last five were very recently formed and were almost unknown in many parts of the country. The two main presidential candidates were Desmond Hoyte of the PNC and Cheddi Jagan of the PPP/Civic.

By the end of September, international observers from the Council of Freely-Elected Heads of Government, led by President Carter, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) had arrived in the country. The Council's observation team was made up of 63 persons including representatives of the Carter Center, a representative of the Organisation of American States (OAS), a group of Canadians from the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, and a British Member of Parliament.

The international teams were assisted by a large group of Guyanese observers organised by the local Electoral Assistance Bureau. IFES, a US-based body, with support from the US Government, had since 1990 provided logistical support to the Elections Commission, including the provision of metal ballot boxes, the printing of ballot papers, the provision of computers and other election materials, and the training of technical staff of the Commission.

While preparations were being made for the elections, there were at least two instances of sabotage to the Commission's computer system managed by the UNDP. The first occurred when an improper circuit was deliberately wired into the electrical system. This resulted in severe power surges that destroyed several pieces of computer hardware. The second occurred about three weeks before the election; a generator, provided by the Canadian High Commission to provide a reliable power source for the computer system, broke down after someone poured a foreign substance into its fuel tank.

The Campaign

Despite the heated political campaigns and tensions during periods of previous elections, the campaign for the October elections was generally incident-free. Huge party rallies, particularly by the two large parties, were peaceful across the country. However, the opposition parties were placed at a disadvantage by the ruling PNC which used the state-owned media throughout the period to promote the PNC campaign and to launch political attacks on the other parties, particularly the PPP/Civic. However, the opposition parties were allowed limited air time on the state-owned radio to make political broadcasts. In addition, all parties were able to run paid advertisements in the newspapers and on independent television stations.

Administrative problems

To ensure transparency in the election process, Rudy Collins, the Chairman of the Elections Commission, made positive efforts to accommodate the media. He had requested Parliament to enact legislation to permit media access to the polling stations, but after this was refused, he was able to allow limited media access to these places. For instance, he decided that when the presidential candidates visited a polling place or went to vote the media would be allowed to cover that event but would not be allowed near the voting booths.

On 4 October, the day before the elections, political tensions were apparent. Many opposition supporters were expressing views that the PNC would steal the elections as they had done on previous occasions since 1968. On the other hand, many PNC supporters felt that with all the electoral reforms, to which Hoyte had agreed, their party had lost control over the election machinery and would be voted out from power.

At the same time, despite having gained some independent control over the conduct of the elections, the Elections Commission was still manned by civil servants who were mainly PNC supporters, there were accusations by the opposition parties that these persons were prejudiced against the opposition.

There was indeed a high level of administrative incompetence by the Commission's staff and this was evident on the eve of the elections. In the first place, the Commission published the list of polling stations too late. It had printed the list of locations only hours before the voting was scheduled to begin, and it did not have enough time to make copies of all the voters' lists to be packed in ballot boxes and shipped to all the polling stations. This irregularity affected communities which were both Afro-Guyanese (mainly pro-government supporters) and Indo-Guyanese (mainly PPP/Civic supporters), but nevertheless it created suspicions among both sections of the population.

Another problem that emerged - and which was very evident on elections day - was that communication between elections officials in the field and the Commission's headquarters was difficult through the lack of sufficient phone lines and very the limited knowledge of how to report the results by radio.

Election day

In most areas, voting began at 6.00 a.m. on 5 October and there were long lines, particularly in the rural areas, at most polling stations during the morning. In a few areas, voting began roughly an hour later because of the late arrival of the polling officers with the ballot papers and ballot boxes. There were also some organisational and logistical problems which also delayed the voting process in a few areas. Accredited representatives of political parties monitored the polls, and so did members of the international observer teams and the local Electoral Assistance Bureau.

The international observers noted the heavy turnout, but despite the organisational problems, the voting process in most areas was relatively trouble-free. However, international observers noted that violence, intimidation, and attempts to manipulate the process did occur, and they witnessed disturbances in Georgetown, Linden, and New Amsterdam where PNC supporters made efforts to prevent the smooth voting process.

Violent attack on the Elections Commission

By mid-morning, the Commission began to receive reports that large numbers of people in some polling places could not be found on the official lists. At approximately 10:00 a.m., several busloads of people were brought to the Commission building in Georgetown; these persons claimed they were not on the official list at their polling place and were told by the election officials to go to the Commission. Within one hour there were more than 200 people in front of the building. Apparently, the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) then broadcast a report about the crowd at the Commission, which caused more people to go there to see what was happening.

At around 1:00 pm, the crowd had grown to more than 1,500 rowdy persons who began to throw stones and other missiles at the windows in the building. Members of the mob shook the Commission's cast iron front gates, held back only by a handful of unarmed constables. The American Ambassador, George Jones, who had gone to the Commission to assist, was injured when his hand was cut by flying glass from a broken window.

It was obvious that the disturbances at the Commission were planned. This was borne out by the fact that people were brought to the Commission in buses and trucks, specially prearranged for this purpose. And shortly after people began to congregate on the street outside, PNC agitators moved among them and organised loud chanting.

As the GBC reporters reported the incident outside the Commission live on the radio, more people hurried there to see what was happening. The GBC initially reported that the people had come to the Commission to vote because they were told if their name was not on the list, they could vote at that location. At the Commission itself, telephone calls were received from presiding officers at polling places outside of Georgetown that citizens reported having heard on the radio that the Commission was allowing people who were not on the list to vote. The presiding officers wanted to know if they could permit this in their respective areas.

The GBC also gave reports of many people being turned away from polling stations in Georgetown because their names were not on the list. This appeared to be occurring chiefly in areas where the PNC expected a heavy turnout. Before the Commission had a chance to check this allegation, the GBC broadcast the reports as factual.

But after checking the allegation, the Commission found that the people were going to the wrong polling place. The larger polling sites had alphabetically split voters' lists, i.e. A-M voting in one room, N-Z in another room, etc. Since such split polling places were not widely used before in Guyana, it was apparent that these people were just going to the wrong room.

To defuse the situation, Collins broadcast a message that those who claimed they had been disenfranchised at the polls would be allowed to vote on the first floor in the Commission building after their names were checked against the master voters' list. Almost immediately, the stone throwing stopped and would-be voters lined up by the hundreds to cast ballots. By that time, every window in the building had been broken. People were still in the queue waiting to vote at the Commission building at 6:00 p.m. when the polls were due to be closed. However, the Collins extended the closing until 7:00 p.m. for every polling place in the country (except the Election Commission building itself, which remained open until 10:00 p.m. to prevent another outbreak of violence) to assure that all who wanted to vote would be given the opportunity. (IFES, in its final report on the elections, Guyana Election Assistance Project - October 1990 to November 1992, said these votes at the Commission were in fact not counted, and elections officials later determined that only 21 persons of these persons were registered voters who, in the first place, should have voted in their own residential districts.)

The lack of adequate police protection for the Commission also contributed to the violence. Collins requested additional police at 10:00 a.m. when the first busloads of people began to arrive. His request was made to the Police Commissioner, Laurie Lewis, a number of times during the day, and he was told each time that additional police were en route.

As the situation deteriorated, Collins decided to evacuate non-essential local staff, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) computer operators, and IFES representatives. However, he and his key staff members remained in the building.

Although there were reports of sporadic violence in a few locations, the Commission headquarters was the focus of the disturbances. Voting continued normally elsewhere. By 3:30 p.m., some of the mob outside the Commission changed their strategy and began looting stores in the business area of Georgetown and violently attacking people on the street. Riot police eventually manage to quell this disturbance but not until four persons were shot dead and more than 100 others injured.

Riot police had surrounded and protected the Elections Commission building for a brief time in the afternoon, but left as suddenly as they had arrived. By 4:30 p.m., only a handful of police were left. An army helicopter hovered over the crowd descending close to it in an unsuccessful effort to disperse it. Collins continued to demand more police protection at the Elections Commission, but despite the usual assurances by the Police Commissioner, no help came.

As darkness fell, the situation outside was still not under control. Shots continued to be heard in the neighbourhood, and there was still no significant police presence. Without police protection, the Elections Commission was vulnerable to attack and vandalism which threatened to close down operations.

Control re-established after Carter's intervention

Just before 8:00 p.m., President Carter went to the Elections Commission office, from where he spoke by telephone with the Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis and President Desmond Hoyte demanding that armed police be sent immediately to defend the Commission. It was only after his telephone calls that the riot police arrived on the scene. Within minutes, the mob was scattered with volleys of warning shots and barricades were erected. Almost immediately, the disturbance at the Commission ended and the technical staff returned to continue their jobs.

In a comment on this situation, IFES in its final report stated:

It seems that as the disturbance at the Commission grew, some members of the PNC saw an opportunity to disrupt the election and shed doubt on the outcome. This would explain the reluctance to provide police protection when first requested. With the outcome in doubt, it would not make any difference if the final results indicated the PPP/Civic had won the election; the PNC could claim the results should not be declared official because it would have been impossible to certify the official returns. It does not seem that all of violence was planned. It is believed that the organisers of the disturbance thought they could control the crowd and direct the activity solely at the Commission. It appears that as the situation continued, it became uncontrollable and they were no longer able to focus the attention on the Commission. The mob nearly forced its way into the Commission building, and at that point, the Chairman was prepared to evacuate the staff. They would have succeeded were it not for the presence of President Carter at the Commission building which forced the police and military to secure the area.

Closing of the polls

Immediately after the polls closed, the polling officer at each polling station, in the presence of party representatives and observers, opened the ballot box and the votes were counted and tabulated. The results were then filled on official forms which were signed by the polling officer and representatives of political parties. Where it was possible, these preliminary results were then transmitted by telephone to the Elections Commission, while others handed theirs to the regional representative of the Commission for delivery to headquarters. In addition to all of this, a copy of the results for each polling station was generally posted on the outside wall of the polling station for public viewing.

As Guyanese tuned in to GBC to wait for the announcement of the results from various regions, the observer team from the Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government was able to use a "quick count" sample which determined before 1:00 a.m. on 6 October (just 7 hours after polls had closed) that the PPP/Civic had won the national elections by a wide margin. The quick count projected that the PPP/Civic would receive 54.8 percent of the vote and the PNC 40.8 percent. This information was communicated to the Chairman of the Elections Commission but it was not released to the public.

Declaration of results

The official results came in much slower from the Elections Commission. By daybreak of 6 October, only 19,293 votes or roughly 5 percent of the eligible votes from 61 polling places had been declared. Immediately after, the Commission refused to release further preliminary results. It was later learned that the Commission was experiencing problems in receiving the results from many polling officials who apparently did not know that they had to send their results directly to the Commission. Actually, it took several days before the all the polling officers finally reported their results.

Naturally, the halt in the announcement of results immediately created suspicions. Since many of the delays were from PNC strongholds, some sections of the population felt that the results from those areas being rigged to show massive support for the PNC. Some confusion was added to this situation by the GBC which deliberately broadcast reports that the results were indicating a PNC victory.

However, the President Carter and his Council quickly stepped in to calm these fears. Early that morning he met Hoyte and Jagan separately and shared with them the results of the quick count. Hoyte acknowledged the figures but was unwilling to concede the election until he had seen the official Elections Commission's results and the count made by his party. Jagan agreed to calm his supporters and wait for the results to be announced by the Elections Commission.

Later than day, President Carter told a press conference that while the delay in reporting returns was a source of frustration, his team had seen no evidence that the integrity of the count had been compromised. This position was also announced by the Commonwealth team at a separate press conference some time after. Carter also revealed that he had shared the quick-count results with Hoyte and Jagan, and that both had agreed to hold the information in confidence.

That evening, the Elections Commission recommenced the announcement of results. Everything was going smoothly, but some of the returns, particularly from Region 4, were not coming in. The Returning Officer for that region was holding back this information, and everyone was trying to locate him. These returns were not received from Region 4 until mid-morning on October 7 and once this was known, it became apparent that the PPP/Civic was going to win convincingly. By 1:00 p.m., Collins finally notified Hoyte and Jagan that it appeared the PPP was going to win the election, and made a public statement to that effect at 3:30 p.m.

President Carter later that day asked both Jagan and Hoyte to name senior representatives to begin plans for an orderly transition. Soon after, at his final press conference, he announced that his team had found that the elections were conducted freely and fairly, and that President Hoyte and Dr. Jagan had named representatives to plan for the transition. That evening, Chairman Rudy Collins announced that with 95 percent of the ballots counted, the PPP/Civic had won the presidency with about 54 percent of the vote.

When all the votes were finally counted, the final results showed the PPP/Civic wining 162,058 or 53.4 percent of the valid votes, while the PNC received a total of 128,286 or 42.3 percent of the votes. The other parties received the following amounts: WPA - 6,068 (2 percent); TUF - 3,183 (1.2 percent); DLM - 1,557; URP - 1,343; PDM - 298; UJI - 134; NRP - 114; UWP - 77; and NDF - 68.

Out of a total electorate of 384,195, a total of 308,852 (or 81 percent) were cast of which 303,186 were valid.

Based on these results, the 53 elected seats in the Parliament were allocated thus: PPP/Civic - 28; PNC - 23; WPA -1; and TUF - 1.

The regional elections

In the regional elections which were held simultaneously, the PPP/Civic scored outright victories in Regions 2 (Pomeroon-Supenaam), 3 (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), 5 (Mahaica-Berbice) and 6 (East Berbice-Corentyne). The PNC also scored victories in Regions 1 Barima-Waini), 4 (Demerara-Mahaica), 7 (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice). In Regions 8 and 9, no party was able to win enough votes to take full control of the respective regional administrations.

In the sparsely populated Region 8 (Potaro-Siparuni), the PNC won 7 regional seats while both the PPP/Civic and the WPA obtained 4 seats each. In a form of "power sharing", the PPP/Civic and the WPA formed an alliance in this region to give the PPP/Civic the post of Regional Chairman and with both parties working together to form the regional administration. This support from the WPA helped the PPP/Civic to achieve a comfortable working majority in Parliament.

A similar situation occurred in Region 9 (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) where both the PPP/Civic and the PNC won 5 regional seats each, while TUF obtained 4. In this case, TUF supported the PPP/Civic in acquiring the post of Regional Chairman and together formed an alliance to control the regional administration.

Altogether, in the ten regions, the PPP/Civic won a total of 99 seats, the PNC 91, the WPA 8, TUF 6 and the URP 1.

With the PPP/Civic in control of six Regions, it was able to obtain and extra six "regional" seats in Parliament. The PNC, with control of four Regions acquired an additional four "regional" seats in Parliament. This brought about the following allocations: PPP/Civic - 34, PNC - 27, WPA -1 and TUF - 1. About a month after the elections, all the elected representative of the Regions convened as the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs and the PPP/Civic with its majority of 99 members to the PNC's 91, was able to win election of two of its representatives to fill the remaining two remaining seats in the new 65-member Parliament. This brought the PPP/Civic overall total to 36 seats.

Jagan sworn in as President

On 9 October, the leader of the PPP/Civic, Dr. Cheddi Jagan took the oath as President, thus becoming Guyana's first freely elected Head of State. At a ceremony at State House in Georgetown witnessed by ex-president Desmond Hoyte and large numbers of PPP/Civic supporters, President Jagan said:

We went to the elections with the slogan: "Time for Change: Time to Rebuild." We have attained the first objective of a change in government. Now, all of us together, whatever our party, political affiliation, whatever our race or ethnicity, whatever our creed, must put our shoulders to the wheel. It is time to embrace each other and work arm in arm to rebuild our beloved Guyana. . . . We must move forward together and make into reality our motto: "One People One Nation, One Destiny.

In this exciting adventure, I expect the fullest co-operation not only of our many friendly countries and our overseas brothers and sisters, but also all progressive minded personalities and organizations: investors, experts and advisers. We do so without rancour, without recrimination, without victimization, without in any way trying to cast blame.

In this regard I hope to develop a constructive relationship with Mr. Desmond Hoyte and the leadership of all parties in order to deepen our democratic process, and accelerate our economic development.

For the first time in 28 years Guyana experienced free and fair elections. The long struggle for the right to freely choose a government was finally won. Democracy which had been snatched away from the people, through a series of rigged elections in 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985, was once again restored. Nurturing and strengthening this newly won democracy would be their challenge in the years ahead.

29 May 2007