I was privileged to be at a PNM manifesto launch at the Hyatt in Port of Spain last Thursday, where a reporter from Caribbean Media Corporation asked two questions that may be of interest to Guyanese and that have been in the Guyana media in recent months – the CCJ and filling the Commonwealth Secretary General vacancy.
The PNM leader, Dr Keith Rowley, was asked how soon his party will table legislation to accept the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal were it to win the Sept 7 general elections. Rowley said a special majority (three-quarters of both Houses of Parliament) is needed to switch from the Privy Council (PC) to the CCJ and that if his party were to get such a majority (33 seats), it would table legislation immediately to make the CCJ the final court of appeal. A poll I conducted up through Friday showed the PNM winning a maximum of 20 seats. There are still two weeks to go before election and opinions could change giving the party a couple more or less seats. The PNM says its internal polls show it winning between 27 and 31 seats meaning it will still be short by a minimum of two seats to pass legislation to replace the PC with the CCJ. Rowley noted that he hopes the Kamla Persad-Bissessar (incumbent Prime Minister) led UNC will support legislation to replace the PC with the CCJ. Kamla stated publicly she wants a referendum on the issue, but Rowley is opposed to a referendum fearing a landslide defeat. Opinion polls show very little support for the CCJ in T&T as indeed throughout the Caribbean. Even Rowley’s PNM supporters are opposed to the CCJ although the T&T government is the largest financial contributor to it. People do not trust the judgment of CCJ judges fearing they will be politically influenced. Kamla said if the referendum passes (50% plus), she will support replacing the PC with the CCJ. But the prospect of a referendum passing is very remote (as even most of Rowley’s supporters are opposed to the CCJ, and hardly any UNC supporter favours the CCJ. The PNM is not campaigning on the CCJ or making it a major issue in its manifesto. And Kamla does not want to turn off her supporters with any mention of the unpopular CC.
The other issue that may interest Guyanese is the Caricom replacement candidate for the Secretary General of the 53 member Commonwealth; incumbent Kamalesh Sharma of India is retiring after completion of his second term this coming November. Rowley said his government will support the Antiguan sponsored Guyanese Sir Ron Sanders. Dominica is supporting a British national, Baroness Scotland, who was born in Dominica but served as a Minister of government in the Labour Party administration. The official Trinidadian sponsored candidate, Dr Bhoe Tewarie, has dropped out of the race for the SG position. He is seeking a safe Indian seat to parliament. Tewarie, who is a member of the appointed Senate, is currently Minister of Planning and is expected to be re-appointed a minister should the UNC win the government. The latest NACTA poll shows the UNC winning a very narrow victory, but two weeks is still a long time in politics. The Kamla government has not come out publicly endorsing a candidate to replace Kamalesh Sharma, however, insiders say the government is leaning towards Guyanese Ron Sanders. Baroness Scotland is not viewed as a true Caribbean national and has virtually no support in Trinidad. Throughout the Caribbean region where I travelled over the last several months, in conversations I had with many people, opinion favours Ron Sanders. Virtually no one supports Scotland. Even among politicians (MPs) I interacted with, except for Dominica, almost everyone supports Sanders. But Prime Minister Roosevelt Skeritt is holding out that Scotland will get the nod. Unless the Caribbean comes up with a consensus candidate, the Secretary General position could end up going to a European or Asian or African candidate although it is the Caribbean’s turn to hold the rotating position. The last and only Caribbean national to hold the position was Guyanese Shridath Ramphal who served an unprecedented three terms.