With the ruling PPP/C under pressure on various fronts and disarray in the PNCR ranks following its turbulent congress, the AFC’s recent attempts to keep government accountable has given the party a boost but expanding long-term support of the electorate remains a work in progress.
Over the past few weeks, the AFC has pushed strongly for a no-confidence vote against the Donald Ramotar administration citing what it described as the illegal spending of billions of dollars by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh. Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman has since referred Singh to the House’s Committee of Privileges over the matter. The AFC needs the support of the opposition coalition APNU for the no-confidence motion to be passed but APNU has thus far made no commitment and signals from coalition representatives suggest that it does not view the motion favourably.
The National Assembly heads for a three-month recess from next week and from all indications, there will be no sitting of the House before August 10 when the recess officially begins thus the no-confidence motion is unlikely to be laid until October when sittings resume. If the motion was passed by the combined opposition, it would trigger general elections within three months. With sittings resuming in late October, it appears that general elections- should the motion be passed- would be unlikely this year.
For now, the AFC appears to be in a favourable position in contrast to the two major parties which face various pressures.
Apart from the AFC’s proposed no-confidence motion, the Donald Ramotar administration is under pressure as more and more sections of the populace clamour for long-delayed Local Government Elections (LGE) to be held. The administration, in response, has trotted out excuses such as claiming that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is not ready for elections – a claim that the Commission has consistently rubbished – and that the populace is not ready. Local government elections have not been held for the past 20 years.
In President Donald Ramotar – who has said that he sees no reason why he should not lead the PPP/C to the polls for a second time – the ruling party has a candidate under whom the party lost its majority in the National Assembly and produced its worst election result ever. In a seeming acknowledgement of the position the party is in, Ramotar two Saturdays ago, said that he would prefer to wait until the required five-year term had elapsed before elections are called. In addition, it has been pointed out that in almost every area of governance there have been persistent allegations of governmental excess, wrong-doing, corruption and even criminality.
The PNCR, meanwhile, is in disarray after its uproarious Congress last weekend exposed deep rifts over electoral propriety within the party and it took a public relations hit. Before Congress, PNCR leader David Granger’s leadership was severely criticised particularly over his dearth of achievements as Opposition Leader and over the handling of a disciplinary matter involving the PNCR’s parliamentarian from its Linden stronghold, Vanessa Kissoon. In addition, many Linden delegates including Granger’s challengers Sharma Solomon and Aubrey Norton walked out of Congress after saying that the process was flawed and Lindeners were being disenfranchised. Another sting was the firing of a gun at the Congress with the alleged shooter being nabbed at the airport and charged. Analysts have said that the Congress events are a step backward for the PNCR and its leader David Granger.
The signals that the opposition coalition APNU – of which the PNCR is the main constituent – has been sending regarding the AFC’s no-confidence motion have also suggested that APNU will not support the motion. Several analysts have pointed out that should it go this route, the party will have to explain to its supporters why it did not vote in favour of the motion as that would be seen as holding the government accountable.
Analyst and chartered accountant Christopher Ram noted that the PNCR/APNU has dithered over any no-confidence motion or the pursuit of Local Government Elections and clearly gives the impression that it is quite comfortable to let the PPP/C continue in power until 2016.
“While I doubt whether many of its own supporters would be comfortable with such a position, they may not feel strongly enough to vote for any other party. On the other hand the AFC might very well pick up support from those who are confused by or disappointed with the PNCR and the PPP/C,” he told Stabroek News.
“It is still early days and it may be premature to think that Guyana is locked into a three-horse race. That may not hold for the next elections in which the Justice For All party is likely to participate on its own and some other persons may just decide that it is time that we have other party(ies) offering the electorate real options,” he said.
According to Ram, the PPP/C and the PNCR are still seen as two sides of the same coin, “willing to operate under a flawed Constitution, ambivalent about popular democracy and unclear about their philosophy.” He asserted that it is worth noting that on key policy issues, the PNCR/APNU do not have any real differences with the PPP/C while the AFC is committed to liberal democracy which it has so far failed to explain.
“At this moment I think some but not significantly strong political wind has favoured the AFC while the WPA (part of APNU) is benefitting from the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry. Politics is full of ups and downs and twists and turns,” Ram said.
Meantime, economist and APNU supporter Tarron Khemraj stated that the no-confidence vote will not make the AFC gain mass support, although he believes that the party could gain a slightly higher percentage if PNCR supporters stay home in large numbers. “I don’t believe third parties win mass support in this manner. Third parties grow with a clear vision and positive messaging, in my opinion,” he said.
“Moreover, Guyanese get stressed out when general elections come about. The independent voters, business community and young professionals may not be as sympathetic to the AFC as their strategists assume once election is precipitated,” he asserted. Khemraj said that the PPP/C would also be expected to blame the AFC and APNU for being power drunk and wanting power in early elections.
“The PPP is a master party at playing victim. If there is a no-confidence vote and there is (an) election later this year or early next year, with the PNCR in disarray, there is more likely to be low voter turnout among PNCR supporters,” he opined. “What this means is the AFC could pick up a slightly higher percentage of votes and the PPP scraping home the 51%,” Khemraj asserted.
“The debacle at Sophia changes the calculus in my opinion. When Mr (Moses) Nagamootoo (of the AFC) proposed the no-confidence vote he could not have anticipated an implosion at the congress,” the economist declared.
He said that at this point, the best strategy – with less risk and a higher rate of return for the opposition – is to unite and lobby hard for local government elections. “Go to CARICOM, organize protests in front the UN, lobby US Senators and … Canadian, British, Brazilian and Indian officials, picket Freedom House and (Office of the President) daily, organize multi-ethnic marches of PNCR and Mr Nagamootoo’s supporters from Berbice. Bring the supporters out in unified multi-ethnic peaceful marches for LGEs. Even the Private Sector Commission wants LGEs,” he asserted.
Meantime, former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran in his Sunday Stabroek column, said that the PPP has gained from recent events. “While the PNCR is in disarray and the AFC’s motion of no confidence now appearing as if it will go nowhere, the PPP’s consistent strategy gives it renewed comfort. It knows that it has a minority government and is employing every strategy to keep it functioning. It has rejected out of hand any form of coalition. It intends to stay in office for as long as possible. Whenever this is no longer possible, it will dissolve the National Assembly and call elections, which the PPP/C believes it will win. This is a fixed strategy from which it is not deviating. It has been paying dividends in terms of retaining office,” the former PPP stalwart noted.
Ramkarran stated that the opposition’s agenda in the meantime, if it was ever a coherent one in the first place, has fizzled out. “It has rejected major infrastructural work such as the Amaila Hydroelectric Project and the Airport Project for no good reason. It has been forced to support enough of the budget to keep the Government alive. Those portions that it rejects, the Government implements anyway by spending sums not initially approved. The bills that it has passed have not been assented to by the President. Its parliamentary resolutions have been ignored. The Public Procurement Commission has not been appointed. The AFC’s no confidence motion appears stillborn. Apart from voting down the Government in the National Assembly, it now has no other strategy,” he said.
The former Speaker said that the opposition now has the challenge of devising a new strategy. “Enormously popular, with a great mobilizing capacity, would be the call for national unity through a coalition government, if placed at the top of its political agenda. It must have dawned on the Opposition, and all Guyana by now, that full emancipation and liberation cannot be achieved unless all are fully represented in and have a stake in the governance of Guyana,” he said.
Ramkarran also noted that there is no reason why the government cannot now proceed to hold local government elections since a decision as to general elections is not likely to be taken until next year. “There is therefore the second half of this year during which elections can be held.
This would divert attention from some unwelcome issues. It will also occupy the energies and resources of everyone until the end of the year. This is the sensible thing to do and it will relieve the government of lot of pressure from the opposition, civil society and the diplomatic community,” he said.