The Guyana Government’s lawful tenure in office came to an end on September 18. The no confidence motion was passed pursuant to article 106 of the Constitution on December 21 and should have resulted in elections by March 21. However, court proceedings placed a ‘pause’ on events and time began to run again on June 18 when the CCJ ruled against the Government. The CCJ gave the clear indication, but did not rule, that elections are due by September 18. Nothing prevented the CCJ from formally ruling, which the lawyers representing the appellants, who had brought the case against the Government, had sought. The result is that the Government has quite duplicitously argued that the CCJ did not rule, the Constitution has not been violated and the Government has de jure and de facto power. From whence this lawful power has been derived has not been explained in any sensible or rational way.
I am deeply conscious of, and have written extensively on, the ethno-political fears that influence Guyana’s politics. I have, and so have many others, repeatedly urged our main political parties to discuss the proposals which they themselves have placed on the political agenda and come to an agreement on how political responsibility can be shared between them equally so that neither can feel at risk of being dominated by the other. The reason the APNU+AFC’s promises of constitutional reform failed to materialize is that it realized that its own proposals would put it in an inferior power position to the PPP. In order to arrive at a political solution, the parties have to accept equality of representation. And it is the PPP that would have to make that concession or sacrifice because of its superior numbers. APNU+AFC has the historical injustice of slavery as an argument to counter that of superior numbers.
Our post-Independence history has created a sense of victimization in the PPP. At the height of most egregious era of such victimization, 1977, Cheddi Jagan was prepared to recognize more than the equality principle. He dragged an unwilling PPP through enormous opposition, to proposals for a national patriotic front government under which the PPP would concede the executive presidency to the PNC and play second fiddle by accepting a position of Prime Minister with the powers of both offices clearly defined. The PNC rejected the proposals and imposed the 1980 Constitution with a fake referendum and an all-powerful President Burnham.
Despite the PNC’s well-known history of elections rigging and constitutional violations, its violent post-election tactics from 1997 to 2001 caused the then diplomatic community to pressure then President Jagdeo to chart a course for “arrangements for inclusive governance” which he did in his paper ‘Building Trust and Confidence’ announced at State House on February 11, 2003. The basis of the paper was that the ongoing implementation of the constitution reform proposals made in 2000 would have created the basis for cooperation between the parties and would lead to the building of confidence, after which further arrangements could be discussed. Former President Hoyte, Leader of the PNCR, had earlier accepted ‘shared governance’ as the policy of his party. But building trust and confidence between the PPP an APNU will never happen. Too many historical and current grievances have accumulated. Trust and confidence in Northern Ireland were built only after the Good Friday Agreement instituted a form of shared governance.
The 2015 elections are the first free and fair post-Independence elections to be won by the now APNU in coalition with the AFC. Many former supporters of the PPP believed the propaganda of the AFC that it would exercise influence on APNU to secure a moderation of its less attractive tendencies of the past. But, like the United Force of 1964-1968, the AFC has shamelessly abandoned any semblance of independence and has become a handmaiden of constitutional oppression, while APNU has returned to its history of constitutional violations.
Some who have been arguing for a shared governance or a winner does not take all system since the 1970s and later, have become convinced that seminars, forums, speeches, discussions, advocacy, meetings and writings are not by themselves enough to mobilise against our deeply entrenched, ethno-political, system which is driven by historically profound fears of domination, which have given birth to the self-righteousness, arrogance, victimization, corruption and winner-take-all system that we see in politics. A political movement is necessary to supplement such an agenda.
The APNU+AFC’s political antics since December 21, its inability to accept defeat, which is itself a form of arrogance, its egregious violations of the Constitution in the appointment of the Chair of the Elections Commission, failure to hold elections by March 21, unlawful removal of names from the electoral list, refusal of the Cabinet to resign and now the failure to hold elections by September 18, will confirm in the minds of PPP supporters that the PNC, in whatever form, cannot be trusted and will continue to victimize them at every opportunity. President Jagdeo’s policy of ‘Building Trust and Confidence’ will therefore receive no traction from PPP supporters.
Only the electorate can resolve Guyana’s political dilemma. And it means depriving both major parties of an absolute majority. Only a party, with the appropriate policies, holding a balance of power, can force them to the constitutional bargaining table.