Both APNU and the AFC appear anxious to amend the Cummingsburg Accord allegedly on the ground that the reality of political office has clashed with the Accord’s constitutionality. A series of interviews over the past two weeks given by President Granger and Prime Minister Nagamootoo suggest that a review of the Accord is underway.
The Cummingburg Accord has two limbs. The first is the number of seats in parliament and ministries in government that each constituent party would be assigned. This apparently went off smoothly. The second limb provides for the more substantive core of the relationship between the parties, namely, the division of responsibility in the management of the government. The Prime Minister was expected to chair the Cabinet and be responsible for domestic affairs except national security while the President would be responsible for foreign affairs and national security.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has not been given the responsibilities of chairing the Cabinet or of exercising responsibility for domestic affairs. The contents of Minister Harmon’s regular engagements with the press suggest that domestic affairs reside with him and/or the President. In excusing the failure to observe the terms of the Accord, both President Granger and Prime Minister Nagamootoo indicate that there is no dispute arising from the failure to implement the Accord. They pointed to potential violation of the Constitution if the terms of the Accord are fully implemented.
There is and would be no violation of the Constitution if the terms of the Accord are implemented. Various articles of the Constitution allow the President to appoint others to execute his responsibilities. (See “The Cummingsburg Accord does not collide with the Constitution” by M. Maxwell in SN 24.06.15). The President can delegate the purely nominal function of chairing the Cabinet while he is present. The Prime Minister can take charge of domestic affairs in an advisory capacity to the President. The flimsy excuse of constitutional violation is an attempt at a power play by APNU. Supported by a surprisingly subservient AFC, it is not a good sign.
In any event, APNU and AFC are not free to amend the Accord. They are only two parties to the document. The electorate is the third party. It contains the basic terms of their post elections collaboration on the basis of which the electorate supported the coalition. The electorate understood that the AFC would have a distinct, decisive and visible management role in the affairs of governance through the Prime Minister. If the parties now wish to unilaterally tamper with this and consign the AFC, even with its unwise consent, to a vague and amorphous, consultative position, the parties should not be surprised if bitter fruits are harvested five years down the road from the same electorate, their third partner, that they have deceived. If that happens, this is where it would have all begun.
Having regard to the high turnout of voters, the percentage of votes obtained by the PPP/C, the votes received by the AFC in 2011 and the numbers at their meetings, there is no reason to suggest that the PNC obtained more than its usual forty one to forty two percent at the elections. The AFC therefore contributed eight to nine percent of the votes to the victory of the coalition. There could have been no coalition victory without the AFC. Five years from now there would be no coalition victory without the AFC, if the AFC loses its identity and individuality in the governance structure and operations, an individuality which it would never be able to retrieve as a political party with a distinct voice and appeal.
One of the major factors in the AFC sustaining its vote from 2011 was the maintenance of its independent character and campaign strategy, its promise of a fresh approach and youth empowerment. Had it been submerged under APNU, disaffected PPP and PNCR/APNU supporters would not have had the opportunity to identify with a political party other than APNU. Just as how the AFC attracted support by maintaining a clear and distinct presence and individuality in the election campaign, so it needs to maintain an independent political existence and defined authority within the coalition in order to sustain and even expand its support. The Cummingsburg Accord clearly intended to enable the AFC to do this. We do not know the reason that has caused the AFC to lose sight of these realities, or to appear so anxious to be willing to sacrifice the fundamental core of the Accord. This will prove to be its undoing and that of the coalition.
There is no doubt that President Granger is facing enormous pressures from within his own party. All the signs are there. But he has to lead from the front. He cannot succumb to the political culture of dominance spawned by a history of ethnic politics, which the coalition has promised to destroy by the very Accord that it now seeks to defang because it disallows the perpetuation of the culture. President Granger must inculcate in his supporters that APNU alone did not win the elections. They must understand that without the AFC there would have been no President Granger.