Sunday, January 21, 2018

guyana's looming snap poll


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ONE YEAR ago today Guyana's People's Progressive Party (PPP) was returned to power on the basis of the presidential, parliamentary and regional elections for a fifth consecutive term since the restoration of electoral democracy in 1992.

But already there are indications of a snap general election in 2013 that could well have negative consequences for political stability and economic progress, both of which have been maintained for two decades, against the odds, with Guyana currently recording recurring annual economic growth rates.

The latest development that could well trigger the politically painful necessity of a snap election emerged last Thursday.

It had to do with an unprecedented and highly controversial opposition-initiated "sanction'' motion against the minister of home affairs, Clement Rohee, and a related ruling by the speaker, Raphael Trotman, to send the minister for questioning before parliament's privileges committee.

The country's attorney general, Anil Nandall, has already signalled his move to the high court to challenge the speaker's ruling, deeming it "unconstitutional" and "a travesty" of established parliamentary governance.

What made the election of one year ago such a watershed event was that, for the first time in its more than 50 years in party politics, the PPP emerged as a minority government with the combined opposition controlling a one-seat majority in the 65-member National Assembly.

Since there has always been bitter confrontation between the PPP and the main opposition PNC from the years of their now late founder-leaders, Dr Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham, it was expected that non-co-operation with the administration of President Donald Ramotar would be the norm, rather than the exception.

After all, the minority Alliance for Change (AFC), whose leadership structure includes defectors from both the PPP and PNC, was only too eager to throw its seven-seat support behind the PNC's 26 seats to ensure the blocking of motions and legislation—whenever they chose—against those from either Prime Minister Samuel Hinds or any his 31 parliamentary colleagues

What was not expected was that within the first year of its return to government, under a constitution that gives enormous powers to the executive president—including refusal to assent to any legislation, or respect any motion initiated and approved by the majority of one vote — was that Trotman, a former leader of the AFC — would himself become controversially involved in rulings that have had the effect of emboldening opposition MPs' disrespect for established parliamentary rules.

Matters deteriorated last Thursday when the speaker permitted a motion by opposition leader David Granger, an ex-brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force, to have home affairs minister Rohee sent for questioning by the parliament's privileges committee—without any specific charge of wrongdoing against him.

That development followed the recent passage of a motion of no-confidence against the minister on allegations of involvement in directives to the police during last July's deadly disturbances in the town of Linden.

It is relevant to note that representatives of the opposition parties failed to provide any evidence of wrongdoing against Rohee before an independent commission of inquiry that was established to probe the July tragedies in Linden.

With the one-seat majority, the speaker is being enabled by a cast drawn from among opposition MPs, mobilised by the leading personalities of the APNU and AFC, who seem obsessed with making fun of home affairs minister Rohee, having virtually placed him in a parliamentary "dock'' of their own creation.

The apparent assumption is that they, as MPs, have a "right" to sanction Rohee on the basis of allegations. Read this to mean denying him the right to speak in the National Assembly and present any motion or legislation as minister of home affairs.

Last Thursday, having much earlier failed to provide evidence of culpability on the part of Rohee in the Linden tragedies of July 18—the excuse they had previously advanced for their no-confidence motion—the opposition moved to have the minister sent to the privileges committee. And, by a tangled web of self-serving arguments, the speaker obliged the passing of the Granger-initiated anti-Rohee motion.

So, where does the government and opposition go from here, given the harsh reality that a democratically elected administration, headed by a president who is part and parcel of the parliamentary process of governance, cannot allow continuation of manoeuvres by opposition MPs moving, with support from the speaker, to exploit a one-vote majority in making a farce of governance?

Speaker Trotman has more than once signalled a willingness to vacate office. Now Guyanese await the final outcome of the current development that brought a speedy adjournment to last Thursday's sitting of parliament until December 16 that could well be the last before the Christmas recess.

To the threat of a no-confidence motion from the AFC's leader Ramjattan came an instant response from the government benches to "bring it on…". A no-confidence motion could well trigger an election that must occur within three months.