Freedom to protest and indecency

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WE have often editorialised about the potential threat of the PPP’s policy of active non-cooperation with the government to the integrity of this country.

Our objection to the PPP’s course of action has not been informed by a desire to stifle protest and resistance. To the contrary, we wish to register our commitment to free speech and general respect for the right of dissent and to eschew any attempt by the state to crush such rights. One of the lessons of slavery and colonialism is the extent to which the denial of freedom messes with the collective mind of a people. It is therefore, incumbent upon post-colonial societies to ensure that independence always confirms to the promotion of freedom, including the freedom to disagree with the government of the day.
But freedom cannot be construed in isolation from the general well-being and security of the larger collective. In other words, the freedom of the individual and individual groups to act and intervene in the politics, economics and the larger social process of the society should not be at the expense of the general good. This is an overarching consideration that must be at the centre of any national pact and must inform political action. Freedom is indispensable, but freedom without limits militates against the very notion of freedom.
Yesterday we witnessed where freedom without limits can take us. PPP members including a parliamentarian and a church leader felt that it was within their right to unfurl placards at a private sector function- the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association luncheon and proceed to deliberately interfere with the presentation of the President. The outcome was that the President’s right to be heard by a very important segment of our country was disrupted and the sanctity of the event desecrated by crass behaviour. We saw this same behaviour back in November 2017, when that party’s MPs disrupted the President’s address to the Parliament.

The PPP’s quarrel with the government is over the interpretation of the constitution and by extension the Caribbean Court of Justice ruling and subsequent consequential orders following the passage of the no confidence motion. Despite explicitly asking the court to order that elections be held before September 18, 2019, the court rejected this and instead insisted that it was not for it to fix timelines and deadlines for elections here, but rather it is a matter for the constitutional actors. Who are the constitutional actors? Government, the Opposition and the Guyana Elections Commission.

We witnessed also yesterday while the PPP members were demonstrating inside Pegasus scores of its supporters mounted a similar protest outside. That protest, despite being vulgar and disruptive was not closed down by the police—nobody was beaten or arrested. One must, therefore, ask why the PPP thought that it needed to take the protest inside the hall of the hotel where a legitimate non-political and private event was taking place and in many respects, engage in mob behaviour. The PPP has had access to the media to air its concerns; we have not heard any complaints of censorship or the denial of media coverage. Yet, the party would consider turning a private non-political event into a street-corner political spectacle that flies in the face of political decency.

The irony is that the record of this government as far as upholding the tenets of civil liberty is far more superior than that of the PPP’s when that party held office. That it has decided on its current course is most baffling to those who proceed from the view that the PPP is committed to a stable and cohesive polity. Each day the party continues to give credence to the widespread view that it is driven by a chronic need for returning to power at all costs, including poisoning the political environment in the most wilful and destructive manner.
We come back to the question of freedom. We feel that the PPP has undermined its own case in this regard. A responsible party should only resort to such extreme and desperate actions when all other doors are closed. As we have pointed out above, this is not the case. What example are the senior members of the party including the self-proclaimed ‘Man of God’ Edghill setting for younger members? What example are they setting for the country? Are they signalling to the country that unprovoked mob behaviour is a norm to which we should aspire? Have they so lost faith in our institutions that they are prepared to destroy their integrity?

No, this is not the Guyana that we should aspire to. We have always disagreed politically, but in a democratic environment, despite its areas of imperfection, one expects better from a party that is almost 70 years old. While such action may receive applause from loyal followers and sycophants, in the end it diminishes the party and takes Guyana to another place of shame.