Letter: The critical Muslim vote: Democracy, transparency and human rights in Guyana

Letter: The critical Muslim vote: Democracy, transparency and human rights in Guyana
Published on May 4, 2015- Reprinted from Caribbean News Now!
Dear Sir:

The recent election in Sri Lanka reflects how the Muslim minority bloc-vote was instrumental in deposing the autocratic government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was accused of human rights abuses, including disregard for minorities, intimidation and suppression of the press, among other charges in that country.
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Guyana’s former president Bharrat Jagdeo headed a Commonwealth Secretariat observer mission to monitor the electoral process in Sri Lanka to ensure that the process was conducted in a free and fair manner without threats from the sitting president or the armed forces. 

Ironically, Mr Jagdeo’s report included Mr Rajapaksa’s abuse of state media and state funds while denying the same to the opposition, which is exactly what the Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP) are accused of doing in Guyana during the current election campaigns.

One of the most dangerous comments made by Mr Jagdeo during his campaign “cuss down” was directed towards the armed forces. Jagdeo took a swipe at the military when he basically told his supporters that if the ‘APNU’ is elected “they will send black soldiers to kick down East Indian doors and rape their women like the ‘PNC’ has done in the past.” This is exactly how his remarks could be interpreted. And to add insult to injury “President Donald Ramotar” wrote a letter to the armed forces urging them to vote/support the PPP/C.

With the upcoming general election in Guyana on May 11, Guyana’s strong 10-12% Muslim minority, which is made up of East Indians, Africans and a small amount of Amerindians, should vote on issues that would improve social and economic development, and respect for their human rights instead of pandering to race.

Guyana’s Muslims are not a monolithic group and not all vote race. However, a large segment of them still hold strong ethnic identity first over religious identity. But this is changing, among young Muslims especially, in this age of social networks. Local Muslims are identifying more with the Umma at large and are no longer blindly yoked to their Hindustani brethren. Interestingly, the PPP-controlled Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) is offering free Bollywood shows, melas and rum parties, utilizing public funds, to appease their Indian-Hindu base.

Sadly, Muslim leaders and organizations have allowed all sorts of politicians the use of the mimbar (pulpit of the mosque) without being cautious of these characters to grace their religious space. These politicians want to use Islamic institutions to garner the Muslim votes by offering little handouts to these groups.

We often hear complaints that Muslims groups are aligning themselves with the government, an accusation that some try to downplay. But this is not only true of Muslim groups. This alignment has been an ongoing issue since the 1960s during that tumultuous period when the most powerful Islamic organisation, the United Sadr Islamic Anjuman, was penetrated by politics of the Cold War era, which led to the demise of that group.

Civil organisations in a weak democracy like Guyana are few, lack resources and find themselves aligned with the sitting government in office. Such a scenario is not healthy for the well-being and negotiating power of the Muslim electorate of Guyana. This is why the PPP leadership once remarked that they “will get the Muslim votes without the support of the Muslim leadership.” This was a slap in the face to the Muslim leadership of Guyana, which shows the arrogance of the PPP’s thinking and their “ownership” of the Muslim votes. That was in the 1990s. The PPP should cease their claim to ownership of the East Indian Muslim electorate today.

Many young Muslims are interested in listening to different subjects when they attend the mosques. Some are surprised that local socio-political and economic issues that have an impact on their daily lives are not discussed. Civic duties, such as voting rights, should be covered from the pulpit of the mosques. However, as election approaches, hopefully politicians will not be allowed to use the mimbar to “preach” as to which party the congregation should vote for. Masjids should guide their followers objectively and avoid the racial undertones. The “colourless” message of brotherhood should be taught and encouraged in Guyana.

Have Muslim leaders and organisations raised their voices against the suspension of parliament, corruption, racism, freedom of press and inclusive governance? Have they condemned the human rights violations of blacks, women, Amerindian and even of their “own” East Indian by the PPP regime? Some suggest that Muslims are a minority and should sit on the fence and not be involved in politics. But are they truly non-political?

Strangely, no Islamic or Hindu groups have raised their voices against the suspension of Guyana’s parliament (only the Christian Church did); corruption and human rights abuses and in particular those perpetuated by Bheri Ramsaran, Anil Nandalall, Kwame McCoy, and Priya Manickchand just to name a few.

There are various reports, including global reports, covering the widespread corruption, cronyism and nepotism practiced by the PPP. The opposition parties and the international community have accused the government of spending taxpayers’ money without the approval of parliament, and threats of violence against the independent media (Kaieteur News).

The country is plagued by armed banditry, kidnapping, daily killings, suicides and has become a global drug trafficking hub. In fact, the European Union has withheld development funds from Guyana because of the suspension of parliament. The PPP/C has been conducting businesses mainly (some secret deals) with companies from India and China because those countries themselves lack transparency and accountability.

The regime has no interest in improving the socio-economic wellbeing of the rest of the nation but now they are making all sorts of grand “fantasy” promises again, as election approaches. They had since 1992 to achieve many of the promises yet most never materialized. This is pure gimmick and empty promises that the PPP regime has repeatedly conveyed to the electorate that they “own” the Indian votes and including the Indian Muslims.

Yet, the PPP has never “nominated” a Muslim to any senior position such as president, prime minister or foreign minister since the evolution of the PPP and they expect Muslims to vote for their own kind – no questions asked. This is why the PPP lashed out at the AFC for “stealing the Indian votes” in the last election.

The pathetic state of Guyana under the PPP regime and its disregard for Parliament, the voice of the people, are exemplified in their “celebration”, like it’s a national event, of the opening of a Marriott Hotel, which some refer to as the Bharriott GT, and which was built solely by “imported labour” using Guyanese taxpayers’ funds, while our manufacturing sector is almost non-existent.

In addition, under “shady” deals, they have gifted swathes of land to dodgy Chinese and Indian companies for logging and mining, while all profits and “shipped” back to China and India, with nothing to show how Guyanese benefitted from these “scams.” Do they think that the people of Guyana are so naïve?

Muslims in Guyana cannot deny that they have not been embroiled in the race-based politics and ethnic conflicts that have dominated the history of Guyana. The Indian controlled government of the PPP has been in power since 1992 and prior to that, the Afro-Guyanese dominated PNC was in power from 1966 to 1991. Muslims can change Guyana from the abyss it has fallen into if they vote wisely – vote as a bloc.

Shabnam Alli and Ray Chickrie

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