Opposition forces APNU and the AFC will contest the upcoming May 11th general elections as a coalition, with David Granger and Moses Nagamootoo as its presidential and prime ministerial candidates, respectively.
The two forces announced the decision yesterday, bringing an end to weeks of negotiations with the signing of the “Cummingsburg Accord” to formalise the pre-electoral alliance, which they are confident can unseat the incumbent PPP/C after 22 years in office.
The accord, which was signed yesterday, caters for a joint electoral slate and a 60/40 cabinet split in an alliance government, favouring APNU. They also agreed to reorganise the presidency to delegate more responsibilities to the Prime Minister as well as to select the representative of the electoral list and the Speaker of the House from independent members of civil society. In the coming weeks, final decisions will be made on the coalition’s name, symbol, and who would secure the top seven constitutional spots.
Opposition and APNU leader Granger told a news conference at the Georgetown Club yesterday that both parties went to the bargaining table with certain expectations but it makes no sense trying to figure out who won or lost. “Guyana has won today and that is important. This is the first time in the history of Guyana we will have a multi-party pre-elections coalition that is committed to Article 13 of the Constitution–inclusionary democracy–and we are all committed to making this work… People want this coalition and today it has happened,” he said to applause from supporters and representatives of the new coalition who were present.
“The leadership of both APNU and AFC pledge here today to lead our beloved country into a new dawn of national development, transparent governance, full accountability and invite all well thinking Guyanese to join in this important march as we give Guyana a second chance and to ensure you are on the right- side of history. ‘We ready for the vote!’” he added.
AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan, who had previously declared that the AFC must lead the alliance, said the proposal before the party was acceptable to its membership. “There has been a tremendous climb as to the powers of the Prime Minister. We feel that it was an acceptable proposal and that is why it shifted… I knew that it was going to be hard bargain,” he said, while noting that his supporters are in for the arrangement and have agreed to it.
It was also announced that the coalition’s door “is fully open” to anyone who wants to come onboard and Granger trumpeted the end of winner-take-all politics in Guyana. “…This is finished in Guyana and what we have done, what we are saying to you now and what I am saying to you is that if a partnership of this alliance wins 52% of the votes, we are not going to lock out 48% of the people. That is my promise to you,” he said, noting that the plan is to invite every stakeholder to be part of the inclusionary democracy, including the PPP/C.
The results at the last general elections were among the factors that has fuelled interest in an opposition coalition. At the 2011 polls, where APNU and AFC contested separately, both forces polled more votes in total but the PPP/C retained the presidency because it was the party with the single most votes. Guyana’s electoral system does not allow for a post-electoral alliance.
Both Granger and Nagamootoo held firm yesterday that the coalition will win the elections.
Asked what plans are in place if the coalition loses at the polls, Granger said they have not contemplated the possibility of defeat. “There is a tide from Region One to Nine right across to Region Six, people want this thing badly. People want a coalition. They do not want five more years of the PPP administration. They want this thing and we are very, very confident that we are going to win [the] 11th May, 2015,” he said.
Nagamootoo was also confident. “We are not here to lose. This is part of the winning team you are looking at,” he emphasised.
Reading from a prepared speech to a packed room of journalists, supporters and representatives of the new coalition, Granger said the coalition is a “historic and watershed political development for our country” and important for the country to progress. He said the agreement was reached in the interest of Guyana and responding to the overwhelming encouragements of both parties’ membership, supporters and the general public.
According to the agreement, both parties will contest the elections on a single list of candidates, with APNU nominating the presidential candidate and the AFC nominating the prime ministerial candidate. The AFC is also assured of 12 seats in the National Assembly.
In the construct of a new government, Granger added, APNU will be allocated one Vice-President and AFC two Vice-Presidents, both of whom will be members of the Cabinet.
Granger also stated that in reflecting the thinking and commitment to and for future constitutional reform, it has been agreed that the presidency will be reorganised along several lines.
It was agreed that the President as Head of State, Head of Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces shall have responsibility for the appointment of constitutional agencies and commissions with the required and agreed democratic mechanisms of consultation and appointment. The President would also have responsibilities for Foreign Affairs, International Relations and Non-Commercial Treaties as well as National Security Policy, the Defence Board, the Joint Intelligence Committee, and the Guyana Defence Force among others.
Granger noted that there were previously vice-presidents under both the PPP and the PNC. “The main purpose of this alliance today is to create a government of national unity. The people of this country must be able to look at the government, look at the Cabinet and see a reflection of persons who represent their interests. It is a question of representation and the use of the vice presidency is to reinforce that principle of representation,” he explained.
He also pointed out that at the head table were representatives from the PNCR, WPA, AFC and the Guyana Action Party. “It is a multi-party democracy, so we have to look at the Cabinet as a means of representing the complexity and the variety of interests in this country…that is the reason for the reintroduction of the vice presidency,” he added.
Granger said that the responsibilities that will be delegated to the Prime Minister by the President would include domestic national affairs and chairing Cabinet; recommending ministerial appointments and providing the organisational structures of ministries for the approval of the President; appointing head of agencies and non-constitutional commissions with the required and agreed democratic mechanisms of consultation and appointment; and domestic security (Home Affairs).
Asked about how the coalition intends to deal with the chairing of the Cabinet by the Prime Minister—a task that the President is constitutionally required to do—Granger said it “is not a problem. The president has not lost his powers. He will have the ability to chair Cabinet sessions in accordance with the constitution but given this agreement there have to be certain powers which will have to be delegated. The Prime Minister doesn’t have those powers under the Constitution but the president can delegate those powers and that is what we propose.”
He also said the parties have agreed that Cabinet positions will allocated on a 60/40 basis between the APNU and the AFC, respectively and that the representative of the candidates’ list and the Speaker of the House will be mutually selected by both parties from independent members of civil society.
Asked for details on how these persons would be chosen, Granger explained that both parties will invite nominations and recommendations and look at the list of candidates. He said a list of criteria will also be prepared and from this candidates will be shortlisted, after which there will be a consensual process involving both parties to choose the Speaker and the representative of the list. He added that this will be the best way forward for Guyana, while noting that the person chosen will be of “national standing.”
Granger admitted that the discussions that led to the signing of the pact were not easy and both parties “had to give up some of their demands and overcome decades of prejudices for us to have arrived at this most significant and momentous point of national renewal.” Sources had said that the talks had dragged on because, among other things, the AFC wanted the top two government positions.
He added that while the alliance will be looking to ensure there is balance between APNU and AFC, they have not determined which actual portfolios will be created in a new Cabinet as yet.
AFC General Secretary David Patterson added that the parties have to look at the reorganisation of ministries. “The negotiation was never about actual persons. It is a question of what’s best for the country,” he said.
Granger later assured that all the parties that make up the APNU will be represented in the National Assembly and they all had a voice in the recently concluded negotiations. He said too that the young people are in full support of the coalition.
“The work has just began and we have no time to lose. Starting immediately, the General Secretaries of both parties will commence the process of combining our campaign teams into one unbeatable electoral machine to secure the victory this country urgently demands of us,” he said.
Asked about the financing of the elections campaign, Granger said that parties have worked out a formula which would see APNU being responsible for 60% of the financing. He said that there will be a combined finance committee for the polls and was confident that the coalition would attract donors who may have been hesitant about support either force on their own. “I am convinced too that many donors were waiting for this thing to happen. They were not prepared to commit themselves to one party but what we did today has convinced them that the days of winner-take-all politics are over and they are prepared to come forward. So I am very satisfied that more donors will come forward now and support this coalition. People want it. It will be well financed and we will win,” he stressed.
Looking ahead, Nagamootoo made it clear that a coalition government would not be about vengeance but a search for people who can bring integrity, honesty and values of good governance and accountability.
Asked how he intends to respond to comments while on the campaign trail that he is a traitor and is power drunk, Nagamootoo, who had previously been a longstanding member of the PPP, pointed to the agreement. “Do you see me look… power drunk? Who has just conceded to the gentleman on my right being the presidential candidate? I would endorse and concede that there is nothing in politics that precludes one from holding any position. The PPP had the opportunity to make me their presidential candidate and they would have won an elections…but they could say what they want to say and I would not be bothered by the negatives of the PPP because a dying, decaying regime would in fact become a little more aggressive and dangerous as it becomes moribund… so I will ignore them,” he said.
When asked about if talks are ongoing currently with any member of the PPP, Nagamootoo acknowledged that a number of current and former members of the ruling party have “been trying to get my attention and I suspect other members of the Alliance for Change.” He said some of these persons seem to believe that they will be out of a job if the PPP administration is voted out. He assured that this will not be the case. “No one has anything to fear. No one has anything to lose. If you are honest and if you have conducted yourself within the law,” he said, before adding that there are others who have other interests. He said if they can be accommodated, the coalition will be assessing them based on how they campaign at the grassroots level. “We have not formalised anything with anyone,” he, however, stressed.