Ralph Ramkarran, Stabroek

What do rising political tensions mean?

By  stabroek news november 4, 2017

Political tensions in Guyana took a turn for the worse over the past two weeks. This has resulted from the appointment by President Granger of former Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Elections Commission. Claiming that the third set of names contained no one who was fit and proper as required by the Constitution, the President, rejecting the names, utilized the constitutional proviso that enabled him to appoint a judge or former judge or a person qualified to be a judge.

Mr. James Patterson may not have been the President’s first choice. The appearance of Major General (ret’d) Joe Singh’s name among the final six gave some hope that the matter would be resolved without resort to the proviso. Those who know the retired Major-General suggest that he would not have allowed his name to go forward if there was any possibility that it would be rejected as not fit and proper. His sudden resignation from all government posts suggest that an undertaking, which may have been given to him, had been violated. 

With Guyana’s charged political and electoral history, underlined by the struggle for ethnic domination and the resulting ethnic insecurities, aggravated by an inadequate political and governmental structure, the Opposition’s reaction of non-cooperation to the President’s unilateral appointment, is not surprising. It is not known exactly how far the policy of ‘non-cooperation’ will extend. From the Opposition’s general reaction, it could well be that considerations of non-cooperation will apply selectively.

The most recent example – unparliamentary behaviour by the Opposition in the National Assembly during the President’s address – has its roots in an unrepresentative National Assembly between 1968 and 1985 together with the nature of the PNC’s non-cooperative conduct extended towards the National Assembly between 1992 and 2015. Whatever may be said about the PPP’s conduct, it is strongly supported by its supporters, just as the PNC’s conduct was justified by its supporters. The only people offended by these outbursts are political pundits and supporters of the other side. Because the (mis)conduct enhances the party’s fighting spirit among its supporters, just as it did when the PNC was in Opposition, it will continue with the PPP.

Two of the biggest issues facing Guyana in the immediate period, which could be negatively affected by ‘non-cooperation,’ are the management of our oil resources and constitutional reform. In relation to oil, the Petroleum Commission Bill has been published and is likely to be debated in the National Assembly in the near future. This Bill is of tremendous importance and can be much improved in debate and discussion. A bill to create and manage a sovereign wealth fund is under preparation. This also will require extensive examination, discussion and debate. Since oil will become Guyana’s largest income earner for the foreseeable future and will shape the future of Guyana and all Guyanese, it is vitally necessary that the Opposition is fully engaged in fashioning oil legislation which is intended to protect the people of Guyana. The PPP should not extend ‘non-cooperation’ to these Bills.

With ‘non-cooperation’ by the Opposition, constitutional reform in terms of the APNU+AFC manifesto (separate presidential elections, the candidate obtaining the second highest votes becoming the prime minister and every political party obtaining more than 15 percent of the votes being qualified to have representation in the government) has become doubtful. The Opposition is awaiting an invitation from the President. The governmental process appears to be stalled. And with President Granger’s latest statement to the National Assembly on Thursday last, the prospect now looks remote. President Granger said: “A multi-party coalition assumed office and ushered in an opportunity for consensus-based politics. This form of government wrested the nation from the vice of divisive and destructive winner-takes-all politics and laid the basis for a system of inclusionary democracy – the form of governance prescribed by the Constitution, at Article 13. That is the form that seeks cooperation for the ‘common good’ rather than one that fosters confrontation and chaos.”

“Winner-does-not-take-all-politics” was a policy first accepted by the PPP as a reaction to the PNC’s unlawful acquisition and retention of political power from 1968 onwards. The objective was for the two main political parties to share political power and bring an end to ethnic domination through political power. The PNC’s ‘shared governance’ proposals, which came later, had the same objective. These two policies are reflected in the APNU+AFC manifesto promises on constitutional reform, outlined above. But for President Granger to now baptise the APNU+AFC coalition as an expression of “winner-does-not-take-all-politics,” thereby distorting the meaning of “winner-does-not-take-all,” is as wrong as the PPP’s distortion of the PPP/Civic in the same way. “Winner-does-not-take-all” pre-supposes a coalition between the main political parties. If it doesn’t bring this about, it is not “winner-does-not-take-all.” It is merely a coalition of convenience, whether PPP/Civic or APNU+AFC.

With both political parties believing that they will win the 2020 elections, the oil bonanza for their elites and ethnic domination rather than constitutional reform would now appear to be far more attractive propositions to each. There is the danger, unless public pressure continues to be brought on APNU+AFC to uphold its manifesto promise, that the issue of national (political) unity will be postponed to the third generation of Guyanese after 1950.

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