The Cummingsburg Accord which saw APNU and the AFC coalescing offers the best chance for a national unity government, presidential candidate of the grouping David Granger said in an interview with Sunday Stabroek during which he restated that his party has nothing to apologise for over the 1968 to 1985 elections it was accused of rigging.
“We have said a government of national unity means exactly what it says, if APNU were to win 52% of the votes we cannot lock out 48% of the population. Government of national unity means government of national unity,” Granger told the Sunday Stabroek.
Asked specifically if the coalition might invite persons from the PPP/C to join its government, Granger said there is a possibility “persons who are committed to the ideals and values of the coalition would be invited into the government, yes.
“It has always been our goal to establish a government of national unity and this is the closest we have come to that.”
On February 14, following weeks of negotiations, APNU and the AFC signed an agreement which saw the two parties coming together to run as one at the May 11 polls. The coalition named Granger as its presidential candidate and AFC’s Moses Nagamootoo as the prime ministerial candidate. While there have been criticisms of the two parties coming together many believe that this is the best shot they have at removing the PPP/C.
Questioned on what would be different for APNU now considering its main constituent, the PNC lost elections in 1992, 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2011, Granger said the difference at the May 11 polls would be the coalition with the AFC coupled with what he described as the “hard” work by the PNC over the last decade to bring about change in its constitution to include inclusionary democracy.
“…The PNC has been working harder than any other political party to bring [power] to inclusionary democracy,” Granger said.
He believes that it is the PNC that has “turned the page” from winner take all politics and pointed out that it was only on December 6 last year that AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan announced the party’s willingness to form a coalition and since that date they have worked hard to form the coalition in less than two months.
As to whether the coalition government would be taking steps to give teeth to Article 13 of the constitution which mandates giving civil society a greater role in the administration of the affairs of the country, Granger said its first commitment would be to hold local government elections, which is the lynchpin of inclusionary democracy.
“But we would establish a forum for consultations with civil society, trade unions and religious organisations…” Granger said. When further probed he said there is no “specific structure but it is one of our tentacles.”
Asked if all the parties that make up the partnership approved of the coalition with the AFC, Granger answered in the affirmative explaining that all five of the political parties at the executive level and the partnership’s affiliates on the leadership council have agreed to the coalition.
While outlining an agenda for its first hundred days in government the coalition did not name a date for local government elections, even though both parties have spoken to the importance of this.
“We would set a date within the first 100 days… the elections cannot be held within the first 100 days, but we would set a date,” Granger said when asked about this.
He pointed out in February 2014 APNU was told that it would require six months to hold local government elections and that was why August 6 was set last year for the government to hold the polls.
“So once the APNU and AFC government is installed we would announce a date,” he said.
Yielded too much?
Meantime, Granger does not agree that APNU may have yielded too much in the talks to the AFC—a much smaller party than the partnership—preferring to state that the two groups were in discussion over several weeks and while both had their objectives at the end of it all there was an agreement. The AFC is guaranteed 12 seats in parliament, 40% of the Cabinet positions and heightened powers for the Prime Minister among other things.
“In a negotiation process no one side can get everything that it asks for but we feel we have established the basis for a government of national unity and we would be moving forward,” Granger stressed.
“At this point in time I don’t think it would be helpful to really examine who got what or who got more. That type of analysis would be quite invidious. What I would say is that the whole is greater than its sum of its parts. What I would say is we now have a coalition. That is our objective; that is our prime objective.”
Asked whether the AFC would still be allotted 12 seats in the National Assembly if the coalition does not win on May 11, Granger, while not answering the specific question, said that given the two parties’ performance in 2011 he does not believe it is possible for them combined to lose the elections.
He would not discuss whether APNU had supported his now running mate, Nagamootoo, for the speakership of the National Assembly back in 2011. It had been said in 2011 that APNU had refused to support Nagamootoo and this was how compromise candidate Raphael Trotman was finally settled on.
When asked what his relationship with the former PPP/C strongman is like now, Granger said that things have changed since 2011. He pointed out that in 2011 Nagamootoo had only left the PPP/C one month before the elections but since that time they have had over three years of interaction and would have collaborated on numerous bills and motions in the National Assembly.
“We have always been open and I would say my relations with Mr Nagamootoo are good although I didn’t work with him. I have never worked with him closely before but he is an experienced politician and we are committed to making a coalition government, a government of national unity.”
About whether Nagamootoo being named the prime ministerial candidate is an opportunistic arrangement, Granger said that they have had a cordial relationship and a common programme which is required in politics.
“We have a common objective as to where we want to see the country go and where we want to see the coalition go, that is what is important and I think with the combination of the experience that he has and my experience we would be able to have a successful government,” Granger said.
Granger was also asked whether Nagamootoo could one day accede to the presidency if the coalition wins but he said that under the accord, the AFC is entitled to the prime ministerial position. This arrangement appears to be akin to ruling party’s where the presidential position is reserved for the PPP.
Granger brushed aside the question about who in the alliance would ensure that the commitments made by the two parties under the agreement would be adhered to pointing out that the agreement signed was a mutual one and “these arrangements would be mutually enforced.” The general secretaries of the two parties have steered the process so far he said and would continue to be the ones doing so.
As to whether the possibility exists that should he become president the AFC with 12 seats would effectively have a veto on his presidency and could possibly vote in Parliament with the PPP/C, Granger said, “Governments don’t work like that, there is something called the doctrine of ministerial responsibility.” He said the partners in the coalition would be expected to accept ministerial responsibilities and when decisions are made collectively in cabinet they would have to be enforced and implemented.
“You would be bound by a doctrine of collective responsibility,” Granger said and when further probed he said “In a cabinet you are expected to work and if you don’t, you go.”
In the same vein, should the coalition win, Granger said he does not see the 11th Parliament returning to the stalemate the 10th Parliament found itself in due to the fact that the ruling party did not have the majority of seats in the National Assembly. When the two parties used their combined voting power they pipped the government by one seat and when asked if this could happen maybe if the AFC voted with the PPP/C, Granger said “I don’t see that possibility.”
“We have collaborated for over three years in the opposition. We have worked together on the budget. We have worked together on the no-confidence motion. We have worked together on local government elections… So I think that is a highly speculative remark and the whole idea of a coalition is that we have to be prepared to work together,” Granger said.
Following the announcement of the coalition, the PPP/C and its supporters and other sections of society argued that the AFC had sold out its supporters by joining with APNU. Others also said that APNU has been unrepentant about the rigging of elections between 1968 and 1985.
Asked what he would personally say to Indo-Guyanese or others who have said they suffered during the Burnham era to convince them to now vote for APNU, Granger said as far as the “APNU is concerned the APNU hasn’t rigged anything.”
It was pointed out the biggest component of APNU is the PNC and in response Granger said that as he has said in the past, “If people feel anything wrong was done in the past I am prepared to investigate that wrong…”
The party leader said that there has been evidence of malpractice by the government committed in recent years and all of those should also be investigated.
“Let’s investigate all of the elections and see, let’s see where the malpractice exists,” he said.
Granger argued that people are not voting for the PPP/C now because they are suffering.
“So when people are talking about the Burnham era, let’s talk about the Jagdeo era…,” Granger stated adding that he is prepared to investigate any wrongdoing “committed by anybody at any time.”
The presidential candidate that said he is confident that May 11 would see a bigger turnout of supporters for the partnership mainly because the ruling party has been exposed for having committed serious breaches in the National Assembly; accused of corruption and running an administration that is ranked very low in transparency among other serious issues.
“I am very confident that public opinion has turned against the PPP,” Granger said.
He pointed out that the political structure of the PNCR and even of the other parties is only “part of the story” since many of the persons who vote for the party are not members but rather they are persons who support the policies of the party.
And while he is not a young man, Granger is confident that he would be able to handle the rigours of the campaign trail. “My life has been training for this,” he said, adding that he had not encountered any health difficulties over the past five years since he entered mainstream politics.
“I have been campaigning for the past five years…,” Granger said, adding that he has travelled into the interior to several villages and that since the party congress in August last year he has visited over three dozen villages.
While the coalition’s formal campaign launch will be March 4, Granger said he has not waited on the launch but rather has been on the trail for quite some time.
About the coalition having a joint campaign Granger said that while the major rallies would be jointly held it would be impossible to ensure that every team going out would be mixed “but we would be working together as far as possible.”
And PNCR member Aubrey Norton, who has had bitter relations with the party, will be part of the campaign as Granger said he has had meetings with Norton. The Granger and Norton camps had clashed last year during the bitter and acrimonious campaign for leadership of the PNCR.