The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, issued an invitation to President Granger to debate race, in the context of which political party in government has done more for African Guyanese. The immediate issue was the rejection by the casting vote of the Chairman of the Elections Commission of Vishnu Persaud as Deputy Chief Elections Officer, which the Leader of the Opposition described as ‘unfair.’ The issue spawned accusations and counter accusations of racial discrimination.
The KN reported on Mr’ Jagdeo’s challenge as follows: “I am prepared to debate race relations and which party has contributed to worsening race relations in Guyana. I can talk to him (President Granger) about this fallacy and the myth that they keep perpetuating that they have done more for Afro-Guyanese than the PPP…” He stated that he is prepared to match the record of the People’s National Congress between 1964 and 1992, and then from 2015 to present as against the PPP’s 23 years in office… According to Jagdeo, the debate can be on several grounds, including employment practices, access to wealth, land and businesses… “I am sure that you will see a pattern with Afro-Guyanese having fared better in that period under the PPP than ever under the PNC rule. I am prepared to debate that openly.”
At the event marking the 100th Birth Anniversary of Cheddi Jagan sponsored by the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, former President Bharrat Jagdeo expressed fears that the general elections due in 2020 will be rigged. President Jagdeo cited the circumstances leading up to the appointment of the Chair of the Elections Commission, namely, President Granger’s rejection of three lists of a total of eighteen names, and the President’s choice of Justice James Patterson. President Granger had the authority to appoint a judge, former judge or person qualified to be a judge, if he rejected the list of the Leader of the Opposition on the ground that the names submitted were not acceptable to him. It was a controversial departure by the President from the formula adopted in 1992, which had subsequently received constitutional imprimatur.
Rigged elections have had a long, known and sordid history in Guyana. Surprisingly, instead of leaving the past behind after the reforms of 1990-1992, it was the PNC that became the accuser, alleging that elections between 1992 and 2006 were rigged. Observers noted that 40 percent average it obtained from 1992 onwards, after the large majorities between 1968 and 1985 had to be explained. The rigging of the elections thereafter was the explanation, justifying the large majorities. But it might have been the symptom of the deeper ethnic malaise that afflicts Guyana, just as the PPP’s claims that the elections of 2011 and 2015, in which it received substantially less votes than before, were rigged against it.
It is not known whether the post of Commissioner of Police, which has become vacant with the retirement of now former Commissioner, Seelall Persaud, will be advertised to facilitate applicants from Guyana and the Caribbean, or will be ‘selected.’ President Granger implemented that policy in relation to the posts of Chancellor and Chief Justice, for which he had argued forcefully as Leader of the Opposition. It was productive because one such applicant was nominated for the post of Chancellor. Consistency demands that the position of Commissioner of Police be similarly advertised so as to attract the best qualified from Guyana and the region.
When appointed, the new Commissioner will recognize that without the cooperation of the public who provide information and intelligence, the capacity of the Police to solve crime would be severely diminished. It appears that such cooperation was significantly enhanced during the tenure of Commissioner Seelall Persaud. This saw a heightened crime resolving effort by the Police which deteriorated as soon as the Police came under public attack at the recent inquiry and the negative consequences of that inquiry. It is hoped that under new leadership the Police will revive its effort at good community relations which is recognized the world over as vital to crime-solving.
Leader of the PNCR, Chairman of APNU and Leader of the Opposition, David Granger, has had to field questions recently about the effectiveness of the Opposition which together control a majority by one of the seats in the National Assembly. Challenges have also come from within the PNCR to Mr. Granger’s leadership by two formidable opponents, Carl Greenidge first and then Aubrey Norton. The clumsy handling of those challenges, particularly the most recent earlier this year, last left a degree of bitterness which is still being felt.
David Granger has always been a political animal but never served in a leadership position until his elevation, first as presidential candidate, then as Party Leader. His career in the military has always, or mostly, been related to the political, but this did not make for overt political leadership.
The PNCR Congress is always an interesting time for political observers, not least because in recent times there has always been a challenge to the leaders and energetic contests for other positions. In recent years both Robert Corbin and David Granger have had to overcome serious challenges. The untimely passing a few years ago of the widely respected Winston Murray, derailed what would have been the most serious contest in the PNCR leadership, perhaps in its history.
The leadership contest this time around is taking place between two talented and experienced Party operatives with impeccable credentials in terms of how they are seen by PNCR members and supporters. Mr. Norton has been in the public eye for a longer period and represents a more militant approach within the PNCR, even though he has worked to modify this image and has demonstrated an interest in wider policy matters. Mr. Granger is the incumbent and has already stamped an image of decisive and thoughtful leadership of both the PNCR and the Opposition. I listened to a speech by him last Wednesday at the opening of a seminar on Parliament, the People and the Media. He has completely lost the hesitancy and soft tones displayed when he was first elected. He is now a commanding presence with a forceful and coherent message.