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Guyana facing new elections

Opposition in standoff over Minister Rohee

By Rickey Singh

AS GUYANA moves to the first anniversary, in just over two weeks, of the November 28, 2011 presidential, parliamentary and regional elections, the country seems on the brink of a very challenging government/opposition confrontation that could make unavoidable a snap general election in 2013—four years before due. Though it may be unpalatable to accept, the reality is that while this first administration of President Donald Ramotar has not been quite forthcoming with new creative political initiatives—beyond, that is, laying the basis for structured tripartite dialogue involving the governing People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the opposition parties A Partnership of National Unity (APNU) and Alliance for Change (AFC) – the combined opposition has also revealed a stunning failure for mature management of its one-seat majority in the 65-member National Assembly. Not surprisingly, this development has spurred speculation of the opposition's capacity and commitment to democratic governance in an environment of national unity and the rule of law. The main APNU coalition partner has even somersaulted on a major agreement with President Ramotar in relation to problems affecting the Linden community and what

was to evolve in July's "Linden crisis".

That somsersault by the David Granger-led APNU helps to explain subsequent significant negative developments, among them the three shooting deaths at Linden and, more recently, political mayhem in the community of Agricola Village that followed an open 48-hour threat by the AFC should the government refuse to part company with Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee.

For starters, neither APNU, viewed as the old People's National Congress in new political clothing and with a few strange bedfellows, nor the minority AFC, seen as a threat to traditional strong bases of PNC support, for example Linden, has ever won any verified free and fair general election.

By last week, after a virtual slash and burn approach to the government's 2012 budget that revealed the extent of the burden of long-held political and personal bitterness by elements within both APNU and the minority AFC, the combined opposition opted to defy the Speaker of Parliament, former AFC leader Raphael Trotman, to show how they intend to manipulate a one-seat majority.

In so doing, the APNU/AFC has now succeeded in making a bitter farce of the rules governing parliament, the primary institution of democratic governance, by their apparent determination to ignore the Speaker's ruling.

The ruling, based on secured independent legal advice from highly-reputed attorneys, is that the recent 'no-confidence' motion against Minister Rohee is "constitutionally unenforceable" and, therefore, he should be prevented by the opposition from functioning in his current capacity.

Where, in any established multi-party parliamentary democracy with a presidential system, except in the current Guyana political case, has an anti-government coalition of opposition parties ever succeeded with a no-confidence motion for the removal of a cabinet minister, contrary to the nation's constitution that vests such powers only in the executive president to appoint and dismiss members of a cabinet?

And President Ramotar, general secretary (de facto leader) of the PPP, has shown no such inclination in the case of Rohee, known to be one of the party's outstanding stalwarts, dating back to its founding patriarch (Cheddi Jagan) and matriarch (Janet Jagan).

Following the July 18 shooting deaths of three protesters in the bauxite mining town of Linden that occurred during a violent confrontation between the police and a hostile crowd – currently the subject of an independent high-level Commission of Inquiry—the APNU/AFC coalition, which was itself involved in anti-government activities, had blamed Minister Rohee.

Therefore, they chose to make use of their one-seat parliamentary majority to pass a no-confidence motion against the Home Affairs Minister; called for his dismissal from the government; and vowed non-cooperation with him so long as he remains a cabinet minister.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandall quickly moved to have a court ruling on the issue, pointing to the constitution that would disallow any such decision by the government without the President's involvement.

But the APNU/AFC lawyers chose not to back off from their "Rohee-must-go" demands at either political rallies or even when their lawyers became involved in representation before the high-level commission of inquiry into the so-called "Linden crisis" that included the tragedy of the trio of killed protesters.

Having failed to establish, with evidence, Minister Rohee's alleged involvement in the death of the three, the AFC chairman and lawyer for the families of the dead victims, Nigel Hughes, had to be reprimanded by the commission's chairman, Lensley Wolfe – a former Chief Justice of Jamaica – for a threatening remark made against a senior police officer then in command at Linden.

Rather than withdraw a shocking "if-you-want-to-shoot-me" remark, or be disallowed from further participation, as stated by chairman Wolfe, the AFC's Hughes opted to leave the hearing.

The commission's public hearings came to an end that same week with the understanding they would be back in Guyana early in 2013 when their findings would be discussed before being released for public information.

In the meanwhile, of course, the business of Guyana's governance, including scheduled meetings of parliament, must continue. And the opposition APNU and AFC have decided on an ongoing campaign to prevent Minister Rohee from presenting any legislation in parliament listed in his name on the order paper.

Further, to disrupt him with recurring noisy chants from being heard—as they did last week.

When Speaker Trotman thought it necessary to read into the record that he had accepted the legal advice sought that under the constitution the Minister could not be prevented from presenting his legislation or participate in any business of parliament because of the earlier approved 'no confidence' motion from the opposition, the APNU/AFC parliamentarians became even more truculent and defiant.

Exasperated, the Speaker felt compelled to adjourn the parliament until November 22—within a week of the first anniversary of Guyana's first minority administration, and after five consecutive terms in government by the PPP, which, incidentally, has never lost a free and fair election since the dawn of multi-party parliamentary democracy in the 1950s.

The big question now is whether the government may already be working on a so-called 'Plan B' should a new initiative for another round of tripartite-level dialogue, involving the PPP, APNU and AFC, fail to achieve an understanding on the way forward.

However, it is felt that any such 'plan' must of necessity include the conduct of a snap poll. But this is a development Guyanese across the political divide seem not anxious to face so soon after the very stressful and costly election of November 28, 2011.

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