Pandemonium in Parliament
By Anand Persaud
Pandemonium broke out in the National Assembly yesterday as the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) succeeded in disrupting the session during which a drinking glass was hurled in the direction of the Speaker, Sase Narain and the entire opposition walked out during debate.
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1991 which seeks to extend the life of Parliament and consequently delay elections came up for its second reading but no one could hear Attorney General Keith Massiah make his presentation above the loud and consistent din caused by the PPP in which its leader Dr.Cheddi Jagan played a starring role. Prime Minister Hamilton Green was forced to summon a press conference after debate on the bill ended to afford Massiah an opportunity to present his arguments so that the press corps could hear.
The session began without any unusual occurrence until the heading “personal explanations” was reached in the sequence of items that come up under business for the sitting when gagged PPP leader Dr Jagan rose from his seat to speak. He was ignored by Speaker Narain who instructed the Acting Clerk of the Assembly to proceed with the business of the session. Dr Jagan became infuriated and began banging a paper weight on his desk continuously demanding that he be given the right to speak.
The Speaker’s refusal to grant Dr. Jagan’s wish prompted a series of confrontations between Narain and PPP front bencher Reepu Daman Persaud who on a point of order argued in favour of the opposition leader being given an opportunity to speak. Narain however disallowed Persaud’s argument and instructed that the session continue with Finance Minister Carl Greenidge’s voice straining over the uproar to present a bill.
Persaud remained standing and Dr. Jagan and the entire PPP bench began to heckle loudly and knock their desks with paper weights until a deafening clamour was raised. A packed gallery looked on attentively at the proceedings and on lookers outside of Parliament Chambers craned their necks to get a glimpse of the action as Persaud talked without being recognised by the Speaker and an uproar was caused by the PPP benches.
At this stage, Massiah got up from his seat to move the second reading of the bill and this prompted an enraged Isahak Basir of the PPP to rise and ask if this was the same Massiah who had brought legislation to the National Assembly validating the later impugned voters’ list. Basir was ruled out of order but this only incensed him further and in the backdrop of the tumult raised by his PPP colleagues, he got up from his seat and walked around to where the ceremonial mace lay on the table in front of the speaker. By this time, and still shouting at the top of his voice, Dr. Jagan flung law volumes and a water pitcher to the ground. Basir picked up the mace and handed it to Dr. Jagan telling him he had the right to speak. The confused Sergeant-at-Arms then sprung into action to protect the mace which he is entrusted with handling during proceedings.
At this stage, Narain threatened to call for the police but this did not daunt any of the PPP Parliamentarians and Dr. Jagan continued to fire personal insults at the Speaker. This prompted the Speaker in an unusual occurrence to turn to the press bench and warn reporters not to carry any of the remarks that were shouted by Dr. Jagan.
Narain was then forced to suspend the sitting of the Assembly to the delight of the PPP Parliamentarians. Guyana Public Communications Agency Executive Chairman, Christopher Nascimento approached the press benches and warned that reporting statements made by Dr. Jagan could result in libels and other such actions against the errant media as the statements were not privileged under Parliamentary procedures.
In the view of representatives from foreign missions and non-Parliamentary opposition parties, the sitting resumed fifteen minutes later with the PPP continuing its tactics of disruption. Narain however ignored this and told Massiah to get on with the reading.
The Legal Affairs Minister began presenting his case for the extension of the life of Parliament and this caused an agitated Basir to pelt an empty drinking glass at Speaker Narain. The glass did not hit him but struck about a foot off and fell to the ground.
Narain remained unmoved. Massiah continued arguing but nothing could be heard above the uproar caused by the PPP benches during which Narain and Prime Minister Green conferred twice. When Massiah ended his inaudible presentation, not to be outdone, the PNC benches created a thundering roar that lasted about a minute.
Around this time, Working People’s Alliance MP Eusi Kwayana who is on an indefinite fast to work for peace in the Middle East, free and fair elections and racial unity here entered the Chamber and remained standing. No opposition member spoke on the Bill and when the call for division of count on those who supported the bill came, in a dramatic turn, all five PPP MPs in addition to Kwayana from the WPA and Michael Abrahams from The United Force left their seats and walked out of the Assembly.
The National Assembly proceeded to approve the Bill which extends the life of Parliament for two months and “empowers the further extension of this period by resolution supported by two thirds” of the National Assembly.
These extensions can be for two months or less at a time but not beyond September 30 and in effect mean that elections can be held as late as December this year.
The “lowest ebb” of Parliamentary life in Guyana and probably the Caribbean was how Prime Minister Green described the PPP led action.
At a press conference in which no less than a dozen Ministers and high ranking officials were present, Green said he was “saddened and deeply grieved” at the depth to which the PPP had descended in the highest forum in the land.
He added that the bill to extend the life of Parliament was necessary because of repeated demands by opposition forces for a new voters’ list. The performance he said proved that the PPP was “immature and not qualified” to lead the country.
Massiah recapped the main points of his argument and said that the Elections Commission and the Chief Elections Officer had informed him that the field work for the voters’ list would take at least three months and this did not take into account claims and objections that had to be made, computerisation and the actual compilation of the list. He claimed that house to house field work in previous elections took four months.