Muslims should vote on issues and as a bloc in Sri Lanka

SHAFAQNA – The recent election in Sri Lanka reflects how the Muslim minority block-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. 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 People’s Progressive Party (PPP) are accused of doing in Guyana during the current election campaign.

With the upcoming general election in Guyana on May 11th, Guyana’s strong 10-12% Muslim minority who are 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 and melas 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 of 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 the 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 “colorless” message of brotherhood should be taught and encouraged in Guyana.

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, 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 business mainly (some secret deals) with companies from India and China because those countries themselves lack transparency and accountability.

Now the PPP/C is 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 gimmickry 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.

The pathetic state of Guyana under the PPP regime and its disregard for Parliament, the voice of the people, is 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-existence.

Muslims in Guyana cannot deny that they have not been embroiled in the race based politics and ethnic conflicts which 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 block.

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