Alliance For Change (AFC) leader Raphael Trotman yesterday said that there is “chatter” that the local government polls could be used to attach a referendum on abolishing terms limits for the president.
During a press conference, Trotman stated that “there has been some chatter that the elections may be held with the ulterior and sinister purpose of attaching a referendum to it for a constitutional amendment for the presidential term limit to be abolished,” similar to the recent vote in Venezuela – a claim last evening rubbished by PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar as nonsense.
The constitution, Trotman reminded, restricts any person from serving for more than two terms as president of Guyana. The two-term limit was one of the outcomes of the constitutional reform process. Trotman said that while President Bharrat Jagdeo has denied seeking a third term, there has been no denial of a possibility of a referendum regarding this matter.
The issue of a third term was introduced at the last congress held by the ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) by Reepu Daman Persaud, Trotman also contended, adding it was “on the agenda” thereby implying that it is still there. However, the AFC leader also emphasized that the issue has emanated as “chatter” and made it clear that the AFC would not comment on whether such action is right or wrong until it is pursued. “There is nothing stopping this matter becoming a referendum issue at the election,” he stated, adding that the party believes the time is right for it to be made public.
“Leave them in their ignorance,” PPP General Secretary Ramotar said when contacted last evening by Stabroek News about the claims, which he described as nonsense.
Local government elections have been due since 1997. Trotman noted that the polls are an essential component of a democratic system which is palpably absent in Guyana. It has been delayed by a failure of the government and opposition to agree on reforms to be completed by the bi-partisan Task Force on Local Government Reform. While the Task Force has agreed on a new Local Government Electoral system, it is still working to complete a draft Fiscal Transfers Bill and a draft Bill for the establishment of the Local Government Commission.
Trotman noted that the Task Force has failed to issue a report on its work but added that the party has been advised that draft legislation is in circulation and would be brought to the National Assembly shortly. He said the party believes that the context of the legislation should be fully set out and explained and that all proposed reforms should be presented as a package rather than in a piece-meal manner. “The party is strong in its conviction that the holding of local government elections in the absence of meaningful reforms that will devolve power and authority to the people, would only result in another meaningless exercise and be a waste of scarce tax payers’ money,” he added.
Last week, the main opposition PNCR accused the PPP/C of trying to justify holding local government elections without agreed reforms in order to consolidate its political hold on the country prior to the holding of 2011 general elections. The PNCR said the government had an agreement with the opposition that the local government elections would be held under the reformed system, using an electoral list extracted from the new National Register of Registrants, produced as a result of the recent national House-to-House Registration process. The party noted that this was in keeping with the position by the joint parliamentary opposition parties.
According to the PNCR, it would resist the holding of the polls without the reforms and challenged the government to allow the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the other opposition parties to have observers at meetings of the Task Force. The PNCR said its members of the bi-partisan Task Force have always co-operated to expedite the reform of the local government system. There has already been agreement on the reforms to the Local Government Electoral system, it noted, while discussions on the details of the draft Bill for Fiscal Transfers to Local Authorities have advanced. However, it said that it has been clear from the inception that despite agreements and statements to the contrary, the PPP members seem committed to frustrating the process. It said PPP Task Force members have been dragging their feet on holding discussions on the draft Bill for the establishment of the Local Government Commission. Noting that the Bills would all have to be tabled and passed in the National Assembly, the PNCR noted that all the opposition parties have called for all three to be presented at the same time, since, if there is agreement, their passage through all stages in the parliament could be expedited. “The PNCR states categorically that, if there is the political will and good faith, on the part of the Jagdeo Administration, the reform of the local government system can be completed in time to hold Local Government Elections by November 2009,” the party said.
Meanwhile, the PNCR said it is evident that a comprehensive public education programme must be held early to ensure that the voters are fully informed and understand the new local government electoral system. It noted that there is no reason why such a campaign cannot be initiated since there is already agreement on the details of the new system.