Alliance for Change (AFC) leader Khemraj Ramjattan may petition the Common-wealth Secretariat to compel the Guyana government to hold local government elections.
This follows a revelation in an address by UK High Commissioner Andrew Ayre that the withholding of local elections constitutes a breach of the Commonwealth Charter to which Guyana is a signatory. Ayre was speaking at a reception marking Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday on Tuesday night.
The High Commissioner told his guests, who included Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, that the failure of the Guyana government to hold local government elections was a “stain on Guyana’s international standing.”
He went on to say that “not only are the reasons given a clear breach of Guyana’s constitution, they are also a clear breach of the Commonwealth Char-ter. The UK again calls on Guyana’s government to deliver now what it is supposed to do every three years and what was in the manifestos of all three parties ahead of the 2011 elections: local elections.”
The High Commissioner based himself on Section 1 of the Commonwealth Charter, which deals with democracy. The section reads:
“We recognise the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live. Governments, political parties and civil society are responsible for upholding and promoting democratic culture and practices and are accountable to the public in this regard. Parliaments and representative local governments and other forms of local governance are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance.”
The Charter continues: “We support the role of the Commonwealth Minister-ial Action Group to address promptly and effectively all instances of serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values without any fear or favour.”
The implication of the first paragraph would seem to include local government elections within the term “free and fair elections.”
In his address which followed that of Ayre, Hinds said: “I would like to keep this issue local,” adding that he was “confident that in time our differing views on this matter will be resolved.”
When contacted on Friday, Ramjattan told Stabroek News that he did not know the Charter spoke to the issue of elections, but planned to internationalise the issue thanks to the revelation. Ramjattan said he would first research the Charter to familiarise himself with the specific provision, following which he would engage various stakeholders about petitioning the Commonwealth Secretariat to bring pressure on Guyana’s government to hold local government elections.
Ramjattan also disclosed plans to prepare a dossier on Guyana’s local government conundrum which he intends to send to the Commonwealth Secretariat in his bid to “internationalise the problem” with a view to eliciting a response.
During a press conference on Friday A Partner-ship for National Unity (APNU) leader David Granger said he had heard Ayre’s “stinging rebuke” of the government decision not to hold local government elections, but was not optimistic that external forces would prevail.
After the press conference the Leader of the Opposition told Stabroek News that he was aware of the provisions of the Charter, although he did not feel “international bodies can prevail against this government. This government has set its mind against it [local government elections]… “I do not believe that the words of the international community have any impact on the government.”
Stabroek News’ attempts to solicit the Local Government Minister’s view on the matter were unsuccessful.
For several months, various government members, including Local Govern-ment Minister Norman Whittaker and President Donald Ramotar have offered excuses in an attempt to justify not giving the order for local government elections to be held.
The President refused to sign a bill requiring local government elections by August 1 on the grounds that the date was deemed impractical by the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom). The President’s response came the week before last although the bill had been passed in the National Assembly on February 10.
Gecom Commissioner Vincent Alexander has said Ramotar intentionally put himself in a position to present the argument he did, waiting just two months short of the deadline before making a decision. Alexander said the president should have signed the bill then left it to Gecom to advise on the practicality of the date, as is the legal requirement.
Alexander said if Gecom decided that the date was indeed impractical it could have easily suggested to government a more practical date. He said this would have prevented the need for new legislation, as may now be the case. Additionally, Gecom has, on numerous occasions, indicated its ability to hold local government elections within six months of receiving the needed order from the local government minister.