President Jagdeo’s twilight zone

President Bharrat Jagdeo still appears far from ready to have the lights turned out on his tenure as the country’s Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces. Never mind the fact that he has already been feted at a spectacular farewell party at the National Stadium, a showpiece that might have been mistaken for a victory celebration rather than the near end of a presidency. Never mind too that he has now declared that the country will go to the polls in exactly forty-eight days. As far as Mr. Jagdeo is concerned the proverbial fat lady is still winding up for her final stanza and he is still President of the Republic.

If anything, his fantastic farewell function appears to have triggered a renewed sense of urgency in his presidential pursuits. He has continued to parade his credentials as a statesman and global environmental ‘point man’ on the international stage. At home, Mr. Jagdeo passes up no opportunity to make eye-catching public statements and presidential pronouncements. He remains the nation’s chief attention-getter.

The PPP/C’s elections campaign appears designed as much to ensure the continued burnishing of Mr. Jagdeo’s personal image as to promote the candidature of Mr. Donald Ramotar. The PPP/C’s presidential candidate continues to make a case for the presidency in a condition of almost complete concealment by Mr. Jagdeo’s enormous shadow. The party’s elections campaign appears crafted around a sort of Jagdeo mania; Mr. Jagdeo, not Mr. Ramotar, is the PPP/C’s electoral drawing card. That suits Mr. Jagdeo fine, given his preoccupation with leaving his mark on the nation long after he marches off into history.

Quite when that will be is another matter. No one is about to bet a dollar on Mr. Jagdeo not re-emerging as a kind of political sage if the PPP/C wins the elections. In fact, the form which Citizen Jagdeo is likely to take has been a matter of intense public speculation for some time now. He has said that he intends to stay around after he is no longer President. That is understandable if for no other reason than that his end-of-presidency perks and privileges will be considerable, to say the least.

Having basked in the power and privileges of high office for so many years, however, it would be surprising if Mr. Jagdeo does not now find himself contemplating life after the presidency. Even if, for the sake, of argument, he re-emerges in some other exalted position, the presidency is, after all, the presidency and, for him, there are no higher mountains left to climb. However much he busies himself, the next few weeks are likely to be a reflective period for Mr. Jagdeo, a sort of twilight zone in which he may well be contemplating just how many more presidential decisions he can make and how these can impact as much on his coveted legacy as on the country before his final curtain call; so that for reasons that are entirely different to ours, President Jagdeo will be immersed in his own countdown to polling day.

One cannot help but wonder whether the unique circumstance in which Mr. Jagdeo finds himself might not impact on what he says and does in the weeks ahead; whether, perhaps he might not feel a sense of urgency to do all that he can as President Jagdeo before he reverts to being Citizen Jagdeo. In this context, one wonders too about just how his circumstance might affect the decisions that he makes. This is not an idle thought. After all, the fact that the bell has now tolled on Mr. Jagdeo’s presidency imposes upon him a responsibility to bring an even greater measure of contemplation and thoughtfulness to bear on the decisions that he makes in his remaining few weeks as President. He must ponder the implications of those decisions not only for his personal legacy but, more importantly, for the future of Guyana. It is a weighty responsibility.

What is left of his presidency aside, Mr. Jagdeo has a political obligation to his party to campaign for its re-election to office. That, however, is a partisan chore not a presidential one and while we are not naïve enough to think that his twelve-year presidential tenure will not be seen by his party as valuable to its re-election prospects, Mr. Jagdeo must be mindful not to lose sight of the distinction between his presidential responsibilities to the nation and his political obligation to his party. The presidency of Guyana is neither his own property nor his party’s. If anything Mr. Jagdeo does as President in the period ahead seeks either to gift his party some unfair electoral advantage or to unfairly hinder the chances of its political opponents, that would amount to a misuse of his presidential office.

That is widely believed to have been the case in the matter of his decision – executed almost precisely at the start of the final lap of 2011 electoral race – to impose a ban on the operations of CNS Channel Six for the duration of the rest of the 2011 general elections campaign. The immediate and widespread public condemnation that followed the announcement was intended to send a clear message to the President that he had committed the cardinal error of placing his presidential powers at the disposal of his party’s election campaign, erasing the line between his role as President and that of PPP functionary. More than that, the collective response of the opposition appeared to persuade him that his party and government could pay a high price for a decision that could well have cast a foreboding shadow over the 2011 poll.

The PPP has had its own trials in matters pertaining to access to the media as a condition for free and fair elections so that neither the ruling party nor Mr. Jagdeo could pretend that they were not cognizant of the implications of the decision to close CNS Channel Six down during this period.  One might also have thought that the very last thing that President Jagdeo would have wanted to do, virtually at the end of his tenure, would be to use his office to make such an ill-advised decision and one which was bound to create a common cause for his party’s political opponents. And yet that is exactly what he did, setting aside his overarching responsibility to the nation in preference to a misguided obligation to his party.

Good sense, it seems, prevailed. Mr. Jagdeo has wisely backed away from what may well have been an ugly and needless political confrontation. Still, it is worth noting that in that twilight zone between being President Jagdeo and Citizen Jagdeo, Mr. Jagdeo made a seriously flawed decision, one which could have had ugly consequences for both his coveted legacy and for the stability of the country long after he is no longer the centre of the nation’s attention. It is important that the experience be a sobering lesson for Mr. Jagdeo since, at least for the next forty-eight days, at least, he continues to have both the powers and the responsibilities of the presidency at his disposal.

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