…PNCR sees in-house orchestration by top GMSA officials
POLITICAL parties in Guyana have condemned the “lawless” manner in which members and supporters of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) protested on Thursday, during which they endangered the life of the President and two government ministers.
The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) has called on the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) to condemn the acts foisted against the President at the Pegasus Hotel that day, while the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), non-aligned with the coalition, urged that the country not fall into “chaos and legal disobedience.”
Following the announcement of a February 2020 timeline for elections by Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Thursday, members of the PPP led by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, and PPP presidential candidate, Irfaan Ali, stormed the Pegasus Hotel where the President was expected to be.
The President was expected to give the feature address at the annual GMSA Business Luncheon, which was expected to be attended by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Karen Cummings; Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson and others. However, a large group of protestors, transported in numerous out-of-town buses by their party heads, blocked the entrance to the hotel, prior to the function’s commencement.
The behaviour they displayed as protestors called for “elections now” has since been denounced by the Alliance For Change (AFC) and numerous concerned members of society as unlike a peaceful protest.
At one point, at the protest site, the vehicle carrying Minister Cummings was restricted entry into the venue by PPP supporters, who were being encouraged by Jagdeo and Ali to restrict entrance to the building and to ‘behave as they please’. “There is no ministers,” Ali shouted to his supporters who, bolstered by his comments, echoed similar sentiments amongst themselves, “I recognise no title! And no President!” as they slammed their hands on the outside of the vehicle.
Although the police took to the location of the commotion, protestors shouted amongst themselves that they would “turn over de vehicle” with the minster inside. Just before this occurred, a group of aggressive male protestors, after refusing Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, entry by foot at the main entrance, trailed behind him as he sought to take the exit in. They were led by former PPP Information Liaison Officer, Kwame McCoy, who has a history of mob-like behaviour and has over the years faced prosecution for throwing faeces on activist Freddie Kissoon and also assaulting activist Mark Benschop.
McCoy and another adult male led a group of protestors to bully their way past the police barricade set up and trailed Minister Patterson, putting their placards in his way as the police sought to prevent the materials from coming in contact with the minster. They yelled at the top of their voices using terms such as “dogs”, while one male protestor, who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, barefooted at the time, behaved so terribly that he was later seen throwing himself down at the feet of the police who did not harm him. Meanwhile, the PPP party leaders, Ali and Jagdeo, did nothing to regulate the actions.
Speaking at a PNCR Press Conference on Friday, Central Executive Member, (ret’d) Rear Admiral Gary Best, in prepared statement of the party, relayed that the actions of PPP protestors outside of the hotel are reminiscent of a dark past in Guyana. “…Irfaan Ali and his PPP want to drag Guyana back to the dark days of the past…it is a true sign of progress that under this administration, no protestor has been harmed during our four years in office. We have protested as the PNCR and APNU and was faced water cannons, unidentified officers dressed in police uniforms shooting into crowds in Linden and shooting at protesters indiscriminately. This is the progress people voted for, and a clear sign of change,” he said.
Added to this, the PNCR stated that it has reason to believe that high-ranking persons within the GMSA are responsible of “orchestrating” the in-house protest against the President. Even though the protest was ongoing outside, the President’s security used the tactic of distraction to get the President into the building. They sent what appeared to be the President’s vehicle and escort near to the entrance gate of Pegasus where the bulk of the protesters gathered while the President entered with other escorts through the building’s exit.
However, shortly after the President began his address, a group of PPP loyalists, led by PPP Members of Parliament, Juan Edghill and Nigel Dharamlall, stood up at a table at the back of the room to protest with placards disrupting the flow of the event. When high-ranking police officials arrived, including ‘A’ Division Commander, Marlon Chapman, the table of men and women sought to defend the disruption of the luncheon as a “right” because they were a part of those who “paid to attend”.
Enough coaxing from the police to avoid public confrontation saw the rowdy group eventually leaving the room and the President continued his speech. The PNCR has called on the GMSA and its members to condemn the “act of clear and present danger by some of its members” and has urged businesses and citizens across Guyana to do the same.
Meanwhile, the LJP on Thursday, stated, “Lenox Shuman, Leader and Presidential Candidate of the Liberty Justice Party is appealing to the Guyanese nation for calm after witnessing the scenes outside of the GECOM office and the Pegasus Hotel today.”
FIGURING OUT THE BALANCE
In contrast, following the protest, Jagdeo held a press conference to declare that the protests were “peaceful” and that he will call on his supporters to continue the protests until the President names a date for new elections.
On the other hand, many supporters of the government were displeased that the police force didn’t do more to prevent the PPP protesters from acting in the manner they did; however, Best explained considerations at hand. “We’re balancing between police action and citizen’s ability to protest. So, now that the police have allowed the citizens to protest unhindered it appears as though the Guyana Police Force did not act in a professional manner. [But] the party would like to come down on the side of the police force and commend the police force for its tolerance yesterday but that does not mean a Presidential candidate [of the PPP] should really be in the face of the police and try to block vehicles. I think that was stretching the opportunity to protest too far,” he said.
Meanwhile the WPA and AFC stated they respect the rights to protest only “within the confines of the law”. The PNCR has assured that the party will work to ensure that citizens are able to protest but that the President, ministers of government and citizens are protected during such acts. It has also called on citizens on social media platforms to be cautious of rising tensions through hateful and insightful comments amongst each other.