…say healthy democracy requires robust debates
…different point of views must be respected
By Svetlana Marshall
“A healthy democracy requires robust debates from all points of view, and all voices deserve recognition,” US Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch said in response to the gridlock between President Irfaan Ali and the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon.
Though this past week, Guyana witnessed President Ali’s acceptance of the Opposition’s nominees for the Local Government Commission (LGC), there continues to be a struggle for power and recognition between the two leaders, with the President offering no clear indication that he will engage in meaningful consultation with the Leader of the Opposition unless his Government is recognised as legitimate by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC). The Opposition Leader, though describing the Ali Administration as “unlawful,” said he stands ready to consult on matters of national importance.
The US Ambassador, when asked by Village Voice Newspaper to weigh in on the issue, underscored the need for dialogue in a thriving democracy, and in doing so, offered the US unwavering support to the people of Guyana.
“The United States has stood with Guyana for 55 years, and our partnership is stronger than ever before. As I said last year during the tumultuous election period, we will never turn our backs on the people of Guyana,” Ambassador Lynch said.
The United Kingdom High Commissioner (ag), Ross Denny, also accentuate the need for the differences of opinion to be respected.
“A robust democracy recognises and respects differences of opinion, and helps ensure unity of all ethnicities, races, religions and regions. At the heart of all democracies should be consideration of its people,” the acting High Commissioner told the Village Voice Newspaper.
High Commissioner (ag) Denny said the United Kingdom looks forward to working with the Government of Guyana and the Opposition in supporting democracy and the rule of law.
The Constitution of Guyana specifically requires that there be consultation with the Leader of the Opposition by the President in the appointment of a number of constitutional office holders, and according to Harmon, there is no precondition attached.
Article 127 of the Constitution requires that agreements be reached between the President and the Opposition Leader for the appointment of Chancellor and Chief justice while Article 191 mandates that the ombudsman be appointed by the President based on consultation with the Opposition Leader.
Articles 198, 200, 207, 210, 212 and 161 outline similar requirements for the appointment of members of the Judicial Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission, the Police Service Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
On Monday, April 12, 2021, President Ali swore in eight (8) persons as members of the Local Government Commission, three of whom were nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, in accordance with the Constitution and though a step in the right direction, the President said he was simply abiding by the Constitution.
Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Gail Teixeira, on behalf of the President, had requested nominees for the Commission, in writing, from the Opposition Leader. Though indicating that he intends to operate within the margins of the Constitution, the President iterated the need for the Opposition Leader to respect his Office.
“On more than one occasions I have made it very clear that my role as President is to engage every Guyanese, to engage every stakeholder, and in the development of our country and in the advancement of the lives of the people of our country, there is no compromise on that. But as I said in that engagement there must be an acknowledgement that you are dealing with a partner, one, who has great clarity in his own head that he is dealing with someone who he respects as the government, and two, he acknowledges as the government,” the Head of State said.
President Ali has repeatedly called for the Opposition Leader to publicly acknowledge his Government as legitimate.
“Mr Harmon needs to get off this narrative that he comforts himself with for far too long, face the reality and act in a manner that is befitting to the citizens of Guyana, and one that puts Guyana first, and the interest of the people first, and if he does so, he would immediately correct his statements. He would immediately do so, and I put the challenge out to him,” the President told reporters.
WE WILL NOW BOW
But the Opposition Leader, on Friday, April 16, 2021, during a virtual press conference, iterated that while he is prepared to work in the interest of all Guyanese, he will not “bow” to the President nor his Government.
“Certainly, I and the APNU+AFC we will not bow down to Irfaan Ali just so that he can say, okay, I will speak to you. The Constitution requires there to be collaboration and consultation, and we are prepared to work in accordance with the Constitution. We have responded in a positive manner to requests which have been made to us on certain matters on boards and commissions, and we are prepared to do that,” Harmon told reporters.
He said consultation is not about photo opportunities but rather meaningful discussion. “Consultations and collaborations are not meant just to be photo opportunities, they are meant to be working on a sound and solid agenda, which seeks to deliver a benefit for the good of the people of this country,” he explained.
Ahead of the April 26, 2021 ruling by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, the Opposition Leader expressed confidence that the High Court will uphold the Elections Petition and nullify the results of the 2020 General and Regional Elections as declared by the Elections Commission.
“We are confident that Petition will show that the results arising from a recount of the votes, that that was unlawful and therefore this administration is sitting unlawfully in office, and they have to be removed, they have to give up. Once the ruling of the Court says so, then immediately certain steps have to be taken,” Harmon said as he maintained his position that the Government is “illegal.”
But Opposition Member of Parliament, Lenox Shuman, the lone representative of the joinder list – Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), A New and United Guyana (ANUG) and The New Movement (TNM) – in the House, said the Opposition Leader has taken an “unprincipled” position.
“I think that the Leader of the Opposition is taking an unprincipled position having recognized that they would have lost the elections, they are trying to find ways to remain relevant, and by doing that, they are trying their utmost just to hold onto their base which they are losing constantly,” Shuman told this newspaper. For Shuman, the President is right in his approach, as he too called for the Opposition Leader to formally acknowledge the President and his Government as legitimate.
“It is unfortunate that we are in this position, but all of this is a matter of formal acknowledgment and accepting the legitimate results of the declaration as was made by the chair [of GECOM],” he posited.
He is hopeful that the gridlock between the two leaders would cease with the ruling of the Chief Justice come April 26.
“I expect that Mr Harmon and the President would find a way forward from there and say look, this is where the chips fell, the Court has spoken, so let’s find a way to move on,” Shuman said, while noting that there are important issues of national importance that ought to be addressed such as Constitutional Reform but would be stalled if the impasse between the leaders continue.
“If they cannot have a dialogue then constitutional reform becomes a difficult task, considering that both the Government and the major Opposition sit on that Constitutional Reform Committee in Parliament,” the Opposition MP said.
GOVERNING WITH AN IRON FIST
Weighing in on the issue, Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr David Hinds said the standoff between the two leaders comes as no surprise.
“It is a direct result of the decision to award a highly disputed election to one side—decisions have consequences. During the five-month impasse last year, I had called on the two leaders to meet and work-out a solution. The PPP leader refused and promised he will talk to the APNU+AFC after a declaration was made. WPA was convinced that any meaningful dialogue had to be done before a declaration; that once a winner was installed, that party would not be interested in political compromise and would only agree to dialogue on its terms,” he explained.
Dr. Hinds, who is also a political scientist, took a hit at the manner in which the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration is the governing the country. According to him, since taking Office on August 2, 2020, the PPP/C Government has been governing the country with an “iron fist” which does not augur well for a democratic society.
“It has targeted perceived supporters of the APNU+AFC with the might of the State. It has sought to humiliate the parties. It is the height of arrogance to engage in such aggression and then call on the victims to recognize you. In that regard, WPA understands the APNU+AFC reluctance to genuflect before the PPP,” Dr. Hinds reasoned.
He added: “Having said the above, WPA wishes to point out that despite calls from several quarters for a militant response to the PPP’s onslaught, the coalition did not bring its supporters to the streets—it did not stand in the way of the PPP’s installation. It has gone to parliament. It opted to challenge the election result in the courts via election petitions. It has not undermined any of the country’s institutions. If that is not recognition of the government, then what is?”
According to Dr. Hinds, by insisting that the Coalition and the Opposition Leader must recognize its legitimacy, the PPP/C is seeking to have its actions endorsed, and an admission by the coalition that the PPP/C’s “installation” resulted from a credible election.
“WPA finds it difficult to suggest that that is a viable option for the coalition,” Dr. Hinds said while calling on the Ali Administration to withdraw its unreasonable demand and pave for discussions with the primary Opposition that will repair the damage done to the lives of hundreds of Guyanese following the August 2 declaration. He submitted that there should be a political settlement that guarantees the security of all Guyanese regardless of ethnicity and political association.
“WPA fears that in the absence of such a solution, the country will continue to slide deeper into the pit of conflict. We have walked that road before and both parties are aware of the consequences. The ball is in the PPP’s court for it is they who hold institutional power. It is not too late to act,” Dr. Hinds said.