The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, told the press that he and Minister of Social Cohesion, Minister Amna Ally, with the objective of resolving the political impasse that occurred as a result of the PPP and APNU obtaining an equal number of seats in five NDCs and one township elections, had agreed that the mayor and chairs of the NDCs should rotate annually. According to Jagdeo, he was told that President Granger had approved the agreement. He further asserted that the decision was revoked by the Government, which proposed that three of the six bodies should be led by APNU and three by the PPP. Minister Bulkan made no comment on the alleged agreement but appeared to have confirmed the Government’s position of three/three. He said that since the PPP rejected the compromise he proceeded to appoint APNU members as heads of all six bodies.
No one should be surprised that our two main political parties cannot agree on anything. In relation to regional elections the parties tried on two occasions in the past to cooperate without success. In 1994 the parties agreed to share the position of the mayor of Georgetown. When the PPP’s turn came the PNC reneged on the agreement. In the 2006 regional elections the parties obtained an equal number of seats in region 7. An agreement to share the post of chair was discarded by the PNCR when the elections for chair took place a few days later. It is to the credit of the PPP that even with these experiences it sought to address the current impasse by compromise.
It should not be assumed that the quest for political dominance resides only with APNU. Dominance, not compromise, rules Guyana’s politics. It in so ingrained in our political culture that it can be taken to illogical levels. When the PPP won the government with only a plurality of votes in the 2011 elections, it was assumed that the natural outcome would have been a coalition government, as it would have been in any other part of the rational world. The PPP’s clear position that it was prepared to be out of government rather than stay in the government and share it with one or both opposition parties. This attitude demonstrated the extent to which the principle of dominance, starting almost from the dawn of our modern political history, had become an integral part of Guyana’s political process. APNU’s recent posture on seeking unilateral advantages in resolving the outcome of the elections in the six areas is therefore not surprising.
An opportunity will emerge once again to resolve the matter because the appointments of the mayor and chairs did not accord with the provisions of the legislation.
I regret having to quote legalese but with the defences that have been raised in support of the ministerial appointments, it is necessary to quote the provisions for public information. There is at least one court case where the final decision rests. As it is a civil matter, relating to the interpretation of statutes, to be decided by a judge, not a jury, it is not inappropriate to comment on the effect of the statutes.
Section 13 of the Municipal and District Councils Act provides for the election of mayor and deputy mayor. Subsection (5) provides for the election by majority vote. Subsection (6) then makes provision in case of a tie. It provides: “If there is no election under subsection (5) on account of an equality of votes the Town Clerk shall appoint a day not later than the 28th December in the same year for the election of the Mayor from among such candidates by the voters whose names appear in the register of voters for the time being in force for the City.” It is clear that this section provides that there should be an election by voters, and not an appointment by the Minister, where there is a tie.
The power of the Minister to appoint occurs when the election by voters result in the two persons obtaining the highest votes obtain an equal number of the highest votes. In other words, the Minister appoints when the two top vote getters once again tie. This is provided for by subsection (8) which states: “Where by reason of an equality of votes cast at an election by the voters no person is elected Mayor the Minister shall select one of the councilors receiving the greatest number of equal votes to be the Mayor.”
This same position applies in relation to the neighbourhood democratic councils. Section 28(2), (3), (4) and (5) provide for the election of chair and deputy chair by elected members in a similar manner as that of Mayor. Subsection (6) provides for an election by voters if there is a tie and subsection (7) provides for a selection by the Minister if there is a tie of the top two candidates at the election by voters in the identical manner as that of the Mayor.
Since on this view the ministerial appointments cannot stand, APNU and the Government will have an opportunity to reconsider the compromise proposed by the PPP or some other reasonable resolution, before calling election for Mayor and Chair for the six areas.