Land of the absurd

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By Indranie Deolall

A week ago, Guyana’s Department of Public Information (DPI) issued a flattering government statement saluting incumbent president David Granger on the fifth anniversary of his swearing-in and congratulating him on his second term in office.

“The people of Guyana, in 2015, elected president Granger for the honesty, decency and integrity which he embodies. And it is evident that after a successful first term as president the electorate of Guyana reposed confidence in his leadership and re-elected him for a second term. The government looks forward, with optimism and anticipation, to president Granger’s second term in office and wish (sic) him greater success in the next five years as he leads the delivery of the good life for all Guyanese” it said.

his blithe May 15 release came, even as the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) continued with the long, slow recount of some 2,300 ballot boxes containing the more than 400,000 votes cast in the March 2, 2020 polls, using just ten stations, at the time, with a three-member team of CARICOM observers and authorised party representatives in attendance at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre.

Recount far from over

The fact that the 25-day exercise is far from over with hundreds of boxes still to be checked before the chairman can finally announce the official winner did not deter the Department and the government from lauding president Granger for prevailing “in every instance through decisive and resolute leadership,” acknowledging that he “contended with a combination of various national, political and personal challenges during his first term in office.”

“It is evident that the people of Guyana recognize that president Granger’s insistence on inclusionary and evidence-based decision-making for all Guyanese are precisely what is needed in Guyana at this historic juncture,” the pre-emptive statement added.

In turn, Granger repeated a familiar refrain at a rare press conference this week, “Since the second of March I have made it clear that my government will continue to abide by the Constitution. It will respect the rulings of the court, it awaits the declaration of the Elections Commission and most recently, and particularly after the elections, we will rely on the role of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in the recount process.

That is what I call the four Cs – Constitution, Court, Commission and CARICOM.” The next day, Monday, during a radio interview, he would admit, “There is no landslide (victory) in Guyana. I did not expect a landslide (victory). I wanted to win and I’m confident in the work that was put in. But there was not going to be any landslide.”

Other “Cs” must be the continuing confusion and contradictions that have characterised the cacophony, contortions, and complete circus following the incredible events of early March when more than 2,000 teams counted the votes and tallied the amounts in what seemed a straightforward enough operation with a clear victor.

Confirming inflated numbers

Each day, the recount exercise is confirming that the Returning Officer (RO) of Region 4, Clairmont Mingo blatantly inflated numbers for Granger’s A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition dominated by the People’s National Congress (PNC) and deflated numbers for the main rival the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) during the tabulation process. Twice in March, Mingo used a doctored spreadsheet and unverified results to announce the coalition as the winner.

The DPI rhetoric ensued after the former Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding declared in a preliminary report to the Organization of American States, (OAS), “I have never seen a more transparent effort to alter the result of an election.” As head of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission to the Guyana polls, Golding delivered his damning presentation to the grouping’s Permanent Council which held a virtual regular meeting on May 13, 2020.

Golding cited the repeated interruptions and disruptions which undermined the transparency of the process. “Principal among these were the actions of the Returning Officer (RO) in abandoning the use of the SOPs (statements of polls) in the presence of the authorised party representatives, and to rely instead on a spreadsheet of unknown origin which provided results that were significantly different than on the SOPs…”

The Mission boss added that the RO made a final declaration for Region Four on March 5 even though the process was at a standstill with “a significant number” of SOPs remaining to be reviewed, noting that contrary to the law, the document bore the signature of the chairman of the PNC. “More than a dozen SOPs are prepared at each polling station after the ballot boxes are counted on election night. One copy is pasted on the wall outside of the polling station and each party representative, and there are nine in all…is entitled to receive a copy.”

“You know it takes an extraordinarily courageous mind to present fictitious numbers when such a sturdy paper trail exists and this is being illustrated now as the recount proceeds,” he concluded.

An unabashed co-conspirator

In our lovely land of the absurd, the outraged head of Guyana’s COVID-19 Task Force, slammed Golding for his “exceptionally partisan,” “grossly irresponsible and hostile” report, questioning the veteran politician’s credibility. Perhaps forgetting that he was no longer officially director-general of the Ministry of the Presidency (MoTP), the unofficial chief aide to Granger, Joseph Harmon branded Golding “an unabashed co-conspirator of the PPP as they seek to defy the will of the Guyanese people.”

“He seems to believe that whatever the PPP puts out is authentic, ignoring the fact that a full statement has not been made by the Guyana Elections Commission. This is the same posture taken by the PPP after the elections in publishing statements of poll which they posted on the website and have now been forced to take down because the statements of recount show numbers which are totally different,” Harmon, the PNC’s campaign manager and overseer of Operation Eagle Eye charged.

Illusory truth effect

We can perhaps blame all the emerging absurdities on the illusory truth effect, or the tendency of some people to believe false information after endless repetition.

Certain beliefs such as “Humans only use ten percent of their brains” are still widely considered to be true, despite evidence proving the contrary. Introduced in 1977 in a research paper, it is especially significant in politics, for where disinformation about a candidate or campaign is repeated often enough, many voters will believe it is so. According to the experts, the effect is more powerful when people are tired or distracted by other “facts” like in 2019-2020. Now, if only the APNU+AFC could get all its stories straight.

*ID is singing the famous “King Liar” composition by Lord Nelson, about the “big lying competition,” repeating “Yuh hear lie? Dat is lie.”

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