WE should have seen it coming, but as we are prone to do, we hoped it wouldn’t happen. I always felt that the best outcome for the PPP and the one they craved was for the president to unilaterally appoint the chair of GECOM. At some point I also got the feeling that the President did not mind this outcome. I dreaded the latter and hoped that the President would resist this temptation.
I felt that while it would be beneficial to the president’s partisan interests, it would in the broader scheme of things be counterproductive. The President and his government needed to find a way short of unilateral action to get the person they want.
I wish to make a few observations. First, we have seen in the past that the role of the GECOM chair is pivotal in an institution where the two political sides have equal representation and they vote along party lines. The vote of the chair could indirectly affect the outcome of an election as far as standing in the way of attempts to rig the process is concerned. We saw in both 2011 and 2015 how the PPP and its sympathetic GECOM officials were prepared to manipulate the system to favour a PPP victory.
In such circumstances the chairperson becomes important. The President and the coalition, therefore, would want a chairperson whom they are sure would not be hostile to them and their interests.
Second, during the PPP’s tenure, that party chose three Indian-Guyanese to fill that position. All three are/ were honourable men, but in our ethnically divided society, their ethnicity is highlighted. In our ethnically heightened situation, that matters whether we choose to say it aloud or not.
Many observers are convinced that Dr. Jagan and Mr. Jagdeo were very deliberate when they made their choices. It is clear that they felt that the ethnicity of the chair was a means by which to secure some sense of security that their interests would not be subverted. That explains the deep hostility to Surujbally after the party lost the 2011 and 2015 elections
Third, it is reasonable then to expect that this new government would want to do the same—that is, to choose someone of their ethnic group in whom they have confidence. I think that was the unspoken position of the majority faction of the coalition. But they did not have the courage to say so publicly, because of the fear of being charged with “racialising” the issue.
So, the plan was simple: use a narrow reading of the constitution to achieve a political objective. In that sense, the President’s insistence on a retired judge as the “fit and proper” person and the implication that the lists were flawed because they did not wholly or substantively comply with this criterion, was the perfect path to achieve this objective.
Fourth, I think the PPP and Mr. Jagdeo knew Mr Granger and the government wanted their own person and set out to frustrate it. They were careful in all three of the lists not to give Mr. Granger an “independent” African-Guyanese acceptable to him. In doing so, they were pushing him towards unilateralism, which they hope to use as fodder for their narrative that the government has a plan to postpone or rig the next election.
Fifth, it is because of this obvious PPP ploy that I believe that the president should have avoided making a unilateral decision. In doing so he has given a weapon to the PPP and other independent interests which are skeptical about the coalition’s commitment to democratic governance.
The President has not acted unconstitutionally as the PPP is bellowing—the constitution is clear about that and the chief justice has recently upheld that reading. But while the decision is constitutionally sound, it is politically senseless. I don’t think they had reached the point of last resort.
There was still room for compromise on the matter. The president should have continued to negotiate with Jagdeo and let the process push him to unilateral action, rather than pre-empting the situation.
Sixth, the fact is that the PNC has more of the authoritarian tag than the PPP. So, the coalition should always resist doing things that smell of authoritarian intent. The PPP, as it has indicated, will milk this development for all its worth. They now have a symbolic reason to make the country ungovernable. This decision will not cost the coalition votes, but it would damage their image, which is already suffering. And the PPP’s position would find common ground with sections of the society which are partial to the coalition, but suspicious of its democratic commitment.
Seventh, President Granger made the final decision, but Mr. Jagdeo is equally responsible for the outcome. He did nothing to make consensus easier and everything to put obstacles in the way—and this to my mind was deliberately done. This, in my view, was very insensitive on the PPP’s part—they showed absolutely no respect for ethnic balance and for the symbolism of ethnic give-and-take. Consensus-building is a two-way process and the opposition leader and his party have equal responsibility in this process.
Eighth, I think the president’s decision reflects how poisoned our political environment is. The decision by the president represents another colossal failure on the part of our political leaderships. If the president and the opposition leader could not find consensus on this matter, then I am afraid that our political future as a joint nation is bleak. We should wake up to the reality that our leaders on both sides do not have what it takes to manage our difficult multi-ethnic society. That, to me, is the sad reality.
Ninth, the president has made his decision and not unexpectedly, all hell has broken loose in PPP land. The PPP and its allies such as the Private Sector Commission have predicted doom and the PPP has vowed to fight the matter to the bitter end and in the process, withhold any cooperation with the government. The latter stance is nothing new, since the PPP has never cooperated with the government.
So, this latest tantrum by the PPP is aimed at galvanising and maintaining anti-government sentiments among the party’s supporters. We can hope to see the usual litany of media interventions about the death of democracy and about the reincarnation of Burnhamism and PNC dictatorship. For all its partisan intent, such PPP media barrage will gain more traction because the government and the coalition are already on the backfoot. And in any case, they are very poor at political polemics and narrative-making.
Tenth, some government supporters are cheering the president’s actions as representative of constitutional correctness. I am afraid that such an argument will not change minds. Constitutional correctness does not always amount to political correctness. In the world of politics, the question is always whether your constitutional action is carried out within the appropriate political context. The politics of the President’s actions is bad.
Eleventh, I wish to caution those government supporters who are cheering the bypassing of consensus about this—remember how it felt when for 23 years the representatives of African-Guyanese were forcibly and constitutionally excluded from decision-making. The negative consequences of that experience still haunt the African-Guyanese community. Consensus politics is not about rewarding Jagdeo and the PPP. It is about being sensitive to Indian-Guyanese security and guaranteeing African-Guyanese inclusion in the political process in a winner-take-all system that is loaded against them
Finally, it was not helpful that the AFC has revealed that it was not consulted on this decision. I am sure the President would say that the AFC leader was consulted, since he was present at the meeting with Mr. Jagdeo. I doubt that the WPA was consulted. Maybe, the PNC as a party was consulted. In any case, once again we come face to face with the problem of little or no meaningful consultation within the coalition outside of the Cabinet. My views on this are well known.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org