Both main opposition APNU and the AFC plan to use the National Assembly as the vehicle for their continued push for the holding of local government elections, but a formal collaboration does not appear on the cards despite their common concerns.
APNU Member of Parliament and Shadow Local Government Minis-ter Ronald Bulkan said it wouldn’t make a difference if the two groups join forces or act separately while noting that APNU will continue to do its part in pushing for the elections to be held.
He, however, said APNU intends to utilise the parliamentary mechanisms available as the first course of action and he signalled that they may have to use their parliamentary majority “to em-bark on a joint action because there are going to be things that the government would require parliamentary approval,” in order to get the polls.
APNU leader David Granger also said the coalition is not working with the AFC but rather on its own in its push for the elections.
At the same time, Bulkan was mindful of the PPP trying to provoke a situation which it will use to appeal to its constituents to regain the support they have lost. “We have to be mindful about the dangers…. We would prefer to exhaust all our parliamentary options because we see PPP are trying to provoke a situation,” he said adding that once those options are exhausted then the coalition can look at options available outside of the National Assembly.
“We want on one hand for the public to recognise that we are committed to the utilising of democratic principle and approach. We do not want to be seen as adopting a non-democratic approach,” he said.
Government has maintained over the last few months that Gecom is not ready for local government elections, and that a lot more public education has to be carried out before the order is given for the elections to be held. However, Bulkan stated that there is no impediment to the holding of the elections and he added that the excuses put forward by the PPP/C government are manufactured and spurious.
Bulkan characterised the government’s response to the calls for the polls as insensitive. “They are disrespectful to the population. They seem to be unconcerned about the illegality of their actions. We have described these actions as unwarranted and unjustified and reprehensible,” he said, while also noting that like the opposition, many stakeholders including civil society, western missions and other organisations are calling for the local government elections to be held.
He said that many, including the western missions, have pointed out that the delay in the holding of these elections is a drag on development. He said that with this delay, other obvious facts come into play, such as there is the neglect of communities, inconvenience to citizens and room for corruption because there will be councils that are unresponsive and not accountable to any constituency or citizenry.
“There is no justification whatsoever for the government. There is no impediment in the way of holding local government elections… the sooner they mend their errant ways only then can society benefit,” he stressed.
“If the PPP generally believes in democracy, which they usually like to profess, then they must recognise that their actions are going against that position. They are denying their citizens the managers to manage their county affairs,” he added.
Gov’t not confident
Attempts to make contact with AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan and member Moses Nagamootoo were unsuccessful but MP Trevor Williams spoke extensively about the need for all sections of society to come on board to push for the elections to be held. He said that from all indications the government is delaying the elections because it is not confident about the results. “They don’t anticipate a lot of support. They are not confident about the outcome. If the government was very confident they would have made sure it was held already,” he said. “It is clear to us that they are not confident about the outcome,” he emphasised.
According to Williams, the party sees the local elections as a solution to a local democracy crisis. He said that the entire development of Guyana hinges on local democracy and the holding of the elections are an important issue towards this end.
Asked if street protests, petitions or marches are on the cards for the AFC, he said that at the moment the party is working on trying to advocate and teach persons about the need for local government elections to be held. With local government elections not held in two decades, he noted that there are people who don’t even know what local government stands for.
“We are working to rev up the constituencies,” he said, before adding that it is in the interest of all Guyanese and not just the opposition parties.
“If we have to issue a common statement that is what we will do. We have to join together, join civil society,” he said, noting that many organisations have spoken out on the issue.
Williams explained that the AFC is ready to advocate from the National Assembly and that it will use “any resources within our reach and power” in pursuit of the holding of the elections.
He recalled the trouble that the opposition endured in negotiating the four local government reform bills. “It was a lot of work and compromise. These were important bills for the country,” he stressed.
He said that for the time being, the party will do what it can in the legislature. “The common man needs to join the force. Civil society has been silent. The common man needs to pick this up, even the business people need to join too,” he said, adding that every time a political leader visits a community, the community needs to greet them with demands for local government elections.
The administration, he opined, will listen once people come on board. “If the government doesn’t adhere to the request for local government elections people need to vote against them in the national elections if it so happens to come before the local government elections,” he said while stressing that since the government has no interest in pushing community development, “a strong message should be sent.”