Let’s take these persons and organizations which have recently discovered that the president and opposition leader should be in constant consultation partly because the constitution says so and partly because it’s the commonsense thing to do. Why after fifteen months of cheerleading they have now decided to move to mediate between the two sides? You see, these forces supported the quick fix of the controversial 2020 election that facilitated the rise to power of the current government. In the process, they anointed a winner of an election in which both sides presented “evidence” of fraud. In the best of elections, it is difficult to get both major political forces to accept defeat. So, to make the leap and embrace one side in a clear impasse was to in effect empower one political tribe and anger the other. It was argued that they were upholding free and fair election and saving democracy. That was a partisan and self-serving formulation that was bound to come back to haunt them as there was nothing free, fair and democratic about the 2020 election.
Having given the prize to the PPP in such circumstances, the latter inevitably read its mandate in absolute terms and proceeded to govern without regard for the law and accepted norms of responsible governance. The so-called guardians of democracy could do nothing as they had invested in the government in pursuit of their own interests. From the international community to the local business sector to the media, they preferred the PPP as the party to better protect and advance their interests. So, to now turn around and finger that party would be tantamount to abandoning their client early in the game.
A critical factor in the calculations of the government and their supporting cast was the neutralization of the formal opposition and their supporters. They knew that the coalition was going to disintegrate, and it did. They knew that the PNC would be in turmoil. They, therefore, expected opposition supporters to turn against their leaders and turn to the PPP. It was a big miscalculation. The vacuum on the opposition side was filled by alternative forms of mobilization, particularly on social media. That mobilization has kept opposition supporters abreast of the PPP’s constant infractions and in the process honed the nascent militancy that was birthed by the election outcome. In many regards this militancy has kept the official opposition from capitulating to the PPP.
I start with Lennox Shuman. It was reported in the media that he wrote to the president and met with opposition leader urging them to meet to appoint the Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice and the Commissioner of Police. In the first place, the constitution requires the two officeholders to carry out that function, but the president has repeatedly said that he would not meet with the opposition leader until he recognizes the legitimacy of his presidency. Nowhere in the constitution or the laws of Guyana is the opposition leader’s recognition of the president a requirement for the two men to carry out their constitutional functions. But the president was allowed to get away with this gross violation of his oath of office without rebuke from his party, most of the media, the international community and so-called Civil Society. Now he is saying he is ready to meet with Harmon without pre-conditions.
My friend Christopher Ram has come out in support of Shuman and has called on the president to carry out his constitutional duty. Chris has also been critical of the government’s policy in the oil industry. Interestingly, he observed that he did not help the PPP’s cause in order to produce a government that would violate the rule of law. The problem with that observation is that once a government comes to power in the way the PPP did, it is inevitable that it will violate the rule of law. Chris is knowledgeable enough to know that once you criminalize one side in a conflict and proclaims that it is unfit to govern, the other side reads that as an invitation to govern without restraint.
Finally, The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry—one of the most notorious of the PPP partisans masquerading as Civil Society. That organization entered the fray ostensibly to get the two sides to cooperate on the issue of Covid19 vaccination. Again, this is an issue on which the PPP has been most arrogant. Even as opposition supporters were weaponizing their anti-vaccination advocacy and the fatalities have been climbing, the government has rebuffed calls for including the opposition in the Task Force. All this time, the GCCI remained silent. Now, with Christmas arriving and their eyes on their business interests, they are trying to get the two sides to act together. They may also be trying to avert a boycott off their businesses by opposition supporters.
For, his part Joe Harmon has not been sending clear signals about how he would proceed. On the one hand he is saying he is ready to meet the president and on the other hand he seems to be suggesting that he is not interested in talking just about vaccines—he wants to talk about larges issues of governance. If the latter is correct, he is on the right track. The question however is what the objective of the talks from the opposition standpoint is. Mr. Harmon must know that the PPP is famous for coming to the table but not delivering on agreements. They will not give anything unless they are forced to. So, Harmon must be shrewd. It stands to reason that the dialogue must not be on any single issue, and it must be accompanied by a capacity to enforce decisions. In the final analysis, it is the militancy of the opposition supporters that is bringing them to the table.