APNU+AFC was shell-shocked after inviting the PPP/C Opposition to “bring it on,” that is, the no confidence motion. ‘Bassady’ by the head blow of the Charrandass Persaud’s supportive vote of the NCM, they unsteadily promised to comply with the Constitution and hold elections in three months. Then reality stepped in. Somebody discovered the fiction that the human body of a parliamentarian could not be divided in half and that the majority of 65 was really 34. Most Guyanese would have disagreed with the notion that a parliamentarian would not be willing to have his/her body divided in half. We are all aware of the patriotic displays by parliamentarians on both sides of the House during Sittings. Quite often the Speaker has to intervene in exasperation to quell raucous nationalistic fervor. As it turned out, the sacrifice was unnecessary as history repeated itself. From Mustique in 1985, to Herdmanston in 1998, to the CCJ in 2019, Caricom and its agencies have consistently rescued the PNC/PNCR/APNU, or enabled it to rescue itself. And the international community’s fit of conscience about Guyana in the early 1990s has clearly not survived.
There is no mystery about article 106 of the Constitution. In 1999-2000 the PPP/C appeared to be firmly ensconced in office. The traffic of MPs across the floor had historically been only one way, from the PPP to the PNC. With this in mind, supporters of the then Opposition PNCR and their allies felt that if they were able to encourage that traffic to continue, and they were able to acquire the support of a majority of the members of the National Assembly, the PPP/C Government might not have been willing to observe the convention and resign on a successful no confidence motion or decisive defeat. Hence article 106. The provision requiring the Cabinet to resign was obviously inserted to enforce the caretaker status after a no confidence vote. PPP/C Governments had refused to recognize the existence of such a convention, hence its enshrinement.
Elections in March 2020, after a no confidence motion in December 2019, mandating elections in three months, is an intolerable constitutional travesty. The date will no doubt drift down to May 2020, when the life of the Government comes to its natural end, so that Bharrat Jagdeo and Charandass Persaud will get the message that their ‘shenanigans’ and ‘treachery’ did not work now and will not work in the future. And they must be contemplating that the future for them looks dim, with applicants for work permits and citizenships being assured by high officials that their applications are being processed.
The Chair of Gecom has adopted the strategy of compromise between the parties, splitting the difference in half. This is what the most recent compromise means. The ruling that the new and old lists be merged in an apparent effort to satisfy the Government members of the Commission has, not surprisingly, shifted the election date to March 2020. Gecom staff presumably has to input and ‘merge’ the names of the new registrants. At some point in time, they have to search for and remove duplicates. With 370,000+ names having been registered, there will be hundreds of thousands of duplicates. These have to be eliminated. Quite likely, this effort at compromise will necessitate more under the threat of gridlock, now that the threat has been seen to work, and will shift the election date further and further down the year. At the current estimated date of March, only two more months are needed for the Government’s five-year anniversary, by which time all those seeking citizenship will probably have their applications granted. The APNU+AFC has triumphed. But no one has yet worked out how they will persuade Bharrat Jagdeo to support an extension of the National Assembly until March 2020. Or doesn’t anyone care?
In fact, in the 25 years since the current Gecom was established, it has worked assidulously to develop its capacity to deliver credible elections and could have delivered credible elections by March 21 having recently completed local government elections. But having alighted on a delay strategy, a new house to house registration was invoked as the measure to drive the strategy. Gecom has been elevated to the arbiter of the election date with successive governments deferring to it. Gecom is not an arbiter but an instrument of the Constitution, required to be ready at all times to conduct elections when the executive so decides. With the billions of dollars that have been spent on Gecom, it has now attained that capacity. No executive need await Gecom’s permission to fix an election date. And with a future, restructured, Gecom, comprised of civil society members, it will be removed from the arena of political conflict.
A new constitutional principle has taken root in Guyana. It is called constitutional convenience, having displaced constitutional supremacy. It goes like this: Where a constitutional provision is required to be implemented within a specific time frame, such implementation will only be given effect to within the said time frame if it is convenient to do so. Guyanese and courts will rue the day that they allowed, tolerated or facilitated this travesty in Guyana. It will return to haunt us.