In its first public statement on the unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chair, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) has vowed to exit the coalition government if elections are not “free and fair” even as they accused the Opposition of intentionally compromising the process of selecting a “fit and proper” person for the post.
Eighty-four-year-old Justice James Patterson was hurriedly appointed by President David Granger on the evening of October 19, after rejecting 18 nominees submitted by Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo. The Head of State’s decision awoke fears of rigged elections from several quarters of society especially given the history of the People’s National Congress (PNC) – which under the leadership of former President Forbes Burnham – was known for causing the elections process to be far from “free and fair”.
The WPA, a freedom fighter against the then Burnham dictatorship and now a partner in the governing administration, does not believe that the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) is attempting to rig the elections but the Party promised to resign from the coalition if that is the case.
“WPA publicly commits to the position that, if elections are not proceeding as ‘’free and fair’’, we would publicly withdraw from the coalition, but would not on that support, the PPP/C in any guise whatsoever,” the Party stated.
WPA also indicated that the President’s actions may not be in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution but it was in conformity with the letter. Against this backdrop, the Party emphasised the importance of constitutional reform especially in situations that demand a President/Opposition Leader consensus.
“There was never going to be a good outcome to the appointment of the GECOM Chair without prior Constitutional Reform. This could be proven true for all appointments that require President/Leader of Opposition agreement,” the WPA posited.
The longstanding political party explained on strict construction, the selection procedure used so far “has followed the letter of the law and the constitution, if not the spirit”.
The Party said: “To be very clear, neither side is committed to a solution that is satisfactory to both. The political environment does not favour this. Further, their constituents who make up the bulk of the masses of Guyanese people, do not expect such an outcome.”
Further, the WPA argued that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Opposition intentionally set out to compromise the spirit of the process “with the hope of using the outcome to embarrass the government and further its own partisan agenda.”
“WPA respects the right and civic responsibility of citizens and their organizations to interpret and challenge the president’s action from both a constitutional and a political standpoint—that is part of the democratic environment which our party has always struggled to uphold. But we warn against falling into the trap that is being set by the PPP and its allies,” the WPA stated.
WPA said it is politically important for the appointment of Justice Patterson to not be viewed as a “de facto” depiction of the coalition’s collective intent to rig elections.
“This, from the WPA’s standpoint, is certainly not the case. Those who wish the coalition ill, would hope this becomes the normative public position, especially for activist Civil Society. While not everyone, there are clearly several rogues and charlatans who are deceptively promoting this false equivalence. Buyers beware!”
The Party also criticised the PPP for peddling “falsehoods” in an attempt to tarnish the character of Justice Patterson.
“The fallacious positions being peddled that James Patterson received $800,000 per month as advisor to the Minister of Legal Affairs when he was only being paid $20,000 and that he misrepresented that he was once Chief Justice of Grenada when evidence proves otherwise shows clearly that the tactic of the PPP is to mislead the public. It does so by framing a false narrative as the truth with the hope that the public would respond negatively to everything that the government is doing.”
The Guyana Bar Association, the Guyana Association of Women’s Lawyers, the Guyana Human Rights Association, several private sector bodies across the country, along with independent commentators have all already condemned the President’s decision on the grounds that is was unconstitutional and against the spirit of good governance and democracy.