THE issue as to who would be the next Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) stirs in me a refrain from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To be, or not to be”: That is the question. Ser o no ser – es la cuestion!
When the President and the Leader of the Opposition met last Thursday, the issue of who should be the chairman took centre-stage. It was agreed that the Leader of the Opposition would re-submit the 18 names on the three lists that have previously been deemed unacceptable, and which had resulted in the President appointing Justice James Patterson from outside those lists. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has ruled as flawed, the process by which the appointment was made. Justice Patterson has since demitted office and the post is vacant.
FIT AND PROPER
At the time of the submission by the Leader of the Opposition, each person on the Lists of 18 would have indicated willingness to be appointed GECOM’s Chairman. Each of the nominees had wanted to be the chairman, and would have considered himself/herself as “fit and proper” within the meaning of the Constitution of Guyana.
However, it is possible that the consolidated list of 18 would be sanitised; that there might be nominees who are no longer interested in becoming the chairman. It is possible also that in view of the brouhaha over dual citizenship, that some persons who might be under allegiance to a foreign power or state may wish to withdraw for this or any other reason.
According to the CCJ, both the President and the Leader of the Opposition would together hammer out a list of names not unacceptable to the President. The CCJ sees this as a new approach that “gives the President a role in the identification of the six names.” This is a good-faith process that could result in building trust between Government and Opposition, as no elections could be held, sooner or later, unless the Elections Commission has a chairman and is able to re-commence preparatory work for any such elections.
CART BEFORE DONKEY
It was surprising therefore that whilst the new process to examine the reconstituted list has not gotten underway, that the Leader of the Opposition has chosen to lead a flock of party zealots in protest activity for elections to be held now, or within the next 70 days. The Jagdeoites want the government to resign, and the President to announce a date for elections.
It is commonsense that there can be no elections without a proper GECOM. Calling for elections now is like putting the cart before the donkey.
President Granger was magnanimous and statesmanlike in accepting the proposition that the old names could again be placed on the table. His Excellency could have brushed aside the proposal as a political ploy or pure provocation.
But to demand resignation of the government and elections within 90 days of the recent CCJ (June 18) judgment is a calculated attempt at undermining the good- faith process. Could it be that the PPP is trying to influence the CCJ ahead of its consequential orders on July 12, to prematurely and unilaterally fix a date for elections in contravention of the constitutional role of the Elections Commission and the Executive President? This cannot be within the contemplation of any reasonable or sensible person.
So I try to look for another political scenario that is being painted by an alienated rump of the PPP, that the Jagdeo faction of the PPP is going soft on the coalition government. This, in party jargon, is tantamount to appeasing the enemy, especially after the Opposition Leader invited the President to informally recommend names of persons who could qualify to be GECOM’s Chairman.
For this clique, if the President and the Opposition Leader could see eye-to-eye on this issue, then the door could theoretically be opened for talks on the wider issue of governance and inclusivity which, I believe, Jagdeo wants.
The mere possibility of that would re-activate the racist bells within the party, which smells outright power at the next polls and would not at this time toy with any other idea, however feasible in the current situation. It is no wonder that Donald Ramotar, the former President and ousted party general secretary, yesterday launched a racist tirade against coalition’s leaders, whom he described as “vultures” and “scoundrels.” (Letter in GT July 6, 2019).
It is evident that disgruntled elements within the “Gang of 8”, are worried that the Granger-Jagdeo talks are going well, or could go well. This would be unlike the time when Ramotar had the process within his grasp, and he messed it up. Ramotar is a quintessential Stalinist, a dogmatist; and a vulgar, street-side political bully who once publicly called me an “intellectual jackass.” He has once again, at a time that requires engagement not confrontation, put his putrid foot into his mouth!
Reflecting on the post-2011 scenario, the one-time influential PPP top brass and former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran, accused the Ramotar-led minority regime with “unimaginative inflexibility,” which was “true to the culture of securing dominance.” That regime, he noted, did not even discuss internally the issue of a coalition arrangement with one or both of the opposition parties. That government, according to Ramkarran, “fell after three years of political turmoil.” (SN January 13, 2019).
It is again this “unimaginative inflexibility” that is being applied to force the Jagdeo-led PPP to make outlandish and impracticable demands. It has to push the notion of dominance by the newly baptised “all-weather party,” instead of constructive engagements that could bring about changes in government-opposition relations.
During 2003, after my unrelenting campaign, the PPP had adopted a declaration of “Building Trust and Confidence” under which government-opposition and PPP/PNC party-to-party reproachment would be possible. But, as Ramkarran pointed out, “By design, the proposals in Building Trust and Confidence were never invoked, even after a PPP/C minority Government was elected in 2011.”
In my view, that it is still neither late nor impossible for the Government and the Opposition to arrive at consensus over the appointment of the GECOM Chairman “within days,” as President Granger has assured. It is also possible that the Government and Opposition, by agreement, could settle on a realistic time-frame for fresh elections, even if this means going back to Parliament to extend the date that had kicked in when the CCJ ruled that the no-confidence motion was validly carried.
When the Opposition would have thrown its support for the motion for extension of the elections time-frame, it would be the first time in a marathon race that the two big blocs would have scaled with a two-thirds majority a major hurdle towards consensus politics in Guyana. That would release unimaginable possibilities for the realisation of other national goals by consensus.
The question is, for the parties involved, whether to be or not to be a game changer!