The Peoples’ Progressive Party went to extraordinary lengths over ten months to find eighteen Guyanese willing to agree to have their names submitted to the President of Guyana for consideration to be appointed to one of the most difficult, controversial and thankless of jobs – Chair of the Elections Commission. Of the last six names submitted, two immediately leap out for consideration. Retired Major General Joe Singh was the highly respected Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force and was a former Chair of the Elections Commission for the 2002 elections, which were credibly held. Attorney at Law Teni Housty is a well-respected, well-qualified, senior, experienced, lawyer and former President of the Guyana Bar Association. Many of the other nominees are also well qualified but no one can seriously assert that the political persuasion of either of these gentlemen, if any, would influence their decisions. Many observers expected, or at least hoped, that President Granger would find suitable persons from the last six.
The PPP has announced that it will mount a constitutional challenge to the President’s appointment. The best time for this was after the President had rejected the first six names and in doing so had suggested that the names should be of only judges, former judges or persons qualified to be judges. The results of the case which was filed after the Leader of the Opposition had submitted a second set of names, showed that it could have been possible to obtain an order from the court directing the President to choose a name from that first six. The Leader of the Opposition having submitted two further sets of six names, each at the invitation of the President, for understandable reasons, has deprived him of the opportunity of having an order in relation to the first six names.
The Constitution provides that “if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for,” only then can the President proceed unilaterally to make an appointment of a judge, former judge or person qualified to be a judge. My understanding is that the Leader of the Opposition has submitted a list. The list was amended twice by the substitution of names. If so, the Leader of the Opposition has not failed to submit a list and the President’s appointment is therefore void. But I’m jumping the gun. The talented lawyers associated with the Opposition will no doubt examine the matter in more detail.
The PPP has declared non-cooperation with the Government. It is not the first time in the PPP’s history that non-cooperation was declared. After the 1973 elections, at which the PNC seized a two-third majority, the PPP declared non-cooperation and did not take up its seats in the National Assembly for 18 months. The PNC did the same after 1992 and did not take up their seats in the National Assembly for long periods of time in the years thereafter. In both cases the respective governments carried on their business with little disruption, but great bitterness. Based on past history with both the PPP and PNC, the PPP’s non-cooperation will mean very little in practical terms to the government’s agenda.
The victim of rigged elections in Guyana since 1968 has been the people of Guyana, but more specifically, the PPP and its supporters. It took 24 years of hard and painful struggle and suffering for democracy to be restored during which time Guyana’s economic and social and development were severely damaged and from which, according to the recent IDB report, we are still recovering. The deep fears of the PPP arising from the initial impasse over the selection of the Chair and now the eventual breakdown of the process, must be instilling deep fear and anguish over the future and the prospect of being rigged out of office for another twenty-five years.
Economic and social recovery after 1992, which commenced during the Hoyte regime beginning in 1985, has been painfully slow, notwithstanding the restoration of democratic rule. But the modest progress made so far, which has entrenched a tolerable level of engagement between the government and opposition, will be destroyed unless democracy remains the basis of governance in Guyana. Democracy and free and fair elections are the foundation of social and economic progress. They are the basis on which good governance will be built and corruption eliminated. They are the foundation for the continuing discourse on constitutional reform and the implementation of APNU+AFC’s manifesto’s promises on a new system of government which will terminate the “winner take all system.” They are vitally necessary to build consensus on how to manage and spend oil revenue when it begins to flow and in relation to which the Opposition should have major role. Guyana’s entire future depends on the strengthening of its democracy, not the creation of situations where a large section of the population begins to question whether Guyana is going to return to the past. Many people now view this as a frightening possibility.
The Government is under an obligation to demonstrate its fidelity to the democratic process in order to sustain the confidence of the Guyanese people. Unless it takes credible steps to do so, the fears are not going to subside.