Just over a week ago, before President Granger left for Cuba, he pronounced that there would be ‘gridlock’ unless he was given the right to recommend names for inclusion in the list of six persons the Leader of the Opposition would recommend to him from which to choose the Chair of GECOM. In other words, the President was demanding the right to choose his own nominee, perhaps up to then the most astonishing interpretation of the several that the President had made of the Constitution and the CCJ’s decision. Fortunately, with the appointment of Justice Claudette Singh, this is no longer an issue.
But he has otherwise outdone himself. It was reported in SN last Friday July 26 that President Granger told members of civil society on Thursday that “the President cannot tell the Elections Commission when elections must be held neither can the courts.” He also reportedly said that the CCJ issued no coercive orders and therefore the Government is not in contravention of the orders of the court or of the Constitution. Presumably, President Granger delivered the same message to the diplomatic community, the Commonwealth Secretary General and the Caricom Secretary General, to all of whom he spoke. On this mindset, the danger remains that the President could still refuse to dissolve Parliament and fix a date for elections.
It is doubtful that President Granger revealed Article 61 and 62 of the Guyana Constitution to the above groups or persons. They read as follows: “61. An election of members of the National Assembly under article 60(2) shall be held on such day within three months after every dissolution of Parliament as the President shall appoint by proclamation…. 62. Elections shall be independently supervised by the Elections Commission in accordance with the provisions of article 162.”
According to the Constitution, therefore, the President, not GECOM, fixes the date for elections. GECOM’s responsibility is only to “independently supervise” the elections.
The President claims that because the CCJ issued no coercive orders, the Government is not in contravention of the orders of the court or of the Constitution. On July 12 the CCJ ruled: “(e) The National Assembly properly passed a motion of no confidence in the Government on 21 December, 2018; (f) Upon the passage of this motion of no confidence in the Government, the clear provisions of Article 106 immediately became engaged.”
In conclusion, it is as clear as day that it is the President who fixes the date for elections, that Article 106 has become immediately engaged, that elections must be held by September 18, that GECOM has no role in these matters and that the Cabinet must resign, which it has refused to do.
By his imaginative interpretations, the President is transporting Guyana into a dystopian reality. It’s like being asked to believe that the earth is flat.
From the early 1990s the international community expended enormous effort and resources to rebuild Guyana’s institutions and to restore and preserve democratic rule. But staring the Constitution and Guyana’s highest court in their faces, and boldly proclaiming that they mean the opposite of what they are actually saying, suggest that much still remains to be done. It is clear that the struggle for ethno-political dominance has distorted reality in Guyana and has transported Government spokespersons into the state of fictive reality described above. There is only one solution and that could only be found in eliminating ethno-political dominance from Guyana’s political system by its reform whereby ethnic competition for political office is extirpated.
On July 11 Reuters reported that “U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the importance of democratic institutions in the Dominican Republic with President Danilo Medina,” before elections due next year. Pompeo intervention reflects widespread concern over Medina’s efforts to amend the Constitution to remove the hurdles to a third presidential term.
Even though Guyana is not as populous and as important as the Dominican Republic, the latter has no great economic or strategic importance. Comparing the intervention of the US Secretary of State with Guyana not even qualifying for a statement from an Acting Deputy Assistant US Secretary of State, or a Junior British Foreign Office Official, suggests the relative lack of importance attached to constitutional violation by his Government. The Government knows that the tepid diplomatic statements so far are mere taps on the wrist that can be safely ignored.
The prorogation of the National Assembly in November, 2014, which is provided for in Guyana’s Constitution, and which had occurred in identical circumstances in Canada, attracted forceful and repeated condemnations by the US, Canada and EU. Demerara Waves of January 17, 2015. UK High Commissioner, Andrew Ayre, indicated that Guyana was increasingly being regarded as a country of concern in London and risked being referred to the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group. The High Commissioner said that the suspension of the Parliament and the delay in holding local government elections violated Guyana’s constitution and the Commonwealth Charter. (Demerara Waves January 17, 2015). The refusal of the Cabinet to resign and the failure to fix a date for elections have been met with silence.
With what appears to be a less engaged international community, it is not known if much weight will be applied to seeking adherence to the Constitution, now that a Chair for GECOM has been agreed. If not, the Government will have free reign to rely on its own distorted interpretations.