Governing coalition partner the Alliance For Change (AFC) has accepted President David Granger’s unilateral selection of the new Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) Chairman, saying that it was necessary to avert a “looming constitutional crisis.”
In a statement last evening on Granger’s handpicking of retired judge James Patterson, the AFC said that it intends to use the constitutional reform exercise to ensure that there is wider participation of stakeholders in the selection process for Gecom commissioners.
“The party recognizes that according to the constitution the consultation process was purely between the President and the Leader of the Opposition. The AFC played no part in the selection process,” the AFC said in the statement.
“It is regrettable that after three protracted rounds of consultations and submissions each of the three lists fell short of the requirements of the constitution. The party recognizes that the necessity had arisen for the President not to further delay the appointment of a Chairman. The appointment in the President’s own deliberate judgement has averted a looming constitutional crisis,” it added.
The statement means that the AFC, currently led by Raphael Trotman, agrees with Granger that the three lists submitted by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo did not comply with the constitution. This is a controversial position as analysts and some civil society groups have contended that the President could have made a choice from any of the three lists.
The AFC is the junior partner to APNU in the coalition government. In APNU, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) is said to be the most influential party after the PNCR.
Contacted, WPA executives Tabitha Sarabo and David Hinds said that the party will issue a statement but has to meet and discuss the issue which should be “very shortly.”
After a ten-month period, following consultations and submissions by Jagdeo of three lists comprising a total of 18 persons, the President on Thursday evening announced that he had, on his own, picked Justice Patterson as the Gecom Chairman.
Granger said that he had chosen the 84-year-old because he felt that the 18 names did not meet the criteria for appointment as Chairman of the elections body.
“Being desirous of fulfilling the requirements of the constitution and given the need to appoint a Chairman …and in light of the failure of the Leader of the Opposition to present me with a list that was not unacceptable I have decided that it would be in the public’s interest to resort to the proviso in the Constitution Article 161 (2) which permits the President to act independently to appoint a person in the judicial category to be Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, that is a person who is presumptively fit and proper. I have accordingly appointed Justice James Patterson,” Granger told reporters following Patterson’s swearing in ceremony at State House.
Use of the proviso is also controversial as experts have argued that it can only be activated when the Opposition Leader fails to submit a list.
The swearing in of Patterson came two and a half hours after Granger met with Jagdeo to inform him of the rejection of the third list and his selection of Patterson.
The nominees on the first list, submitted in December last year, were Major General (ret’d) Norman McLean; Attorney and Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram; Business Executive Ramesh Dookhoo; Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist, Lawrence Lachmansingh; Indian Rights Activist Ryhaan Shah; and Professor, Dr James Rose.
After Granger rejected the first list and voiced his preference for a candidate with legal qualifications, Jagdeo nominated former appellate judge BS Roy, former High Court Justice William Ramlal, former magistrate and now practising attorney Oneidge Walrond-Allicock, attorneys Kashir Khan and Nadia Sagar, and former Guyana Defence Force Captain and businessman Gerald Gouveia for the post. The second list was rejected in early June.
Then on August 25, Jagdeo submitted a list comprising Joe Singh, a retired Guyana Defence Force Major General, who previously served as Gecom Chairman; former long-serving magistrate Krisndat Persaud; attorneys Teni Housty and Sanjeev Datadin; pilot and biodiversity advocate Annette Arjoon-Martins; and Adventist pastor and agriculturalist Onesi La Fleur.
The AFC, in the statement yesterday, said that now that GECOM has a Chairman and is thus fully constituted, the party expects that it will begin work immediately in preparation for next year’s Local Government Elections and the 2020 General Elections.
And while it did not address fears about the rigging of elections which the opposition has raised, the party vowed to challenge any threats to the preservation of democracy here.
“The AFC holds GECOM to the highest standards of electoral integrity and will stridently challenge any threats to the preservation of our democracy,” the statement read.
The AFC also condemned the Opposition Leader’s position that he, his party and their supporters will not co-operate with the current government. “The AFC strongly condemns the Opposition Leader for his reckless and unpatriotic stance of non-co-operation and civil disobedience and the party will hold him personally accountable for the consequences of any civil unrest which may ensue,” its statement said.
Meanwhile, the women’s arm of the party, Women for Change (WFC), sent out a separate statement where it also condemned Jagdeo. “Non-co-operation will only serve a small pocket of the PPP as the majority of their supporters will be the ones to suffer if development is stymied as a result. Guyana is on the cusp of accelerated growth and the effort of all Guyanese is needed to maintain this upward trajectory in our country’s development,” the WFC statement said.
“Further, with the ever present threat at our western border, there is vital need for our country to present a united front. Our sovereignty, our territorial integrity, our future is at stake. Any refusal to join the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana in its efforts to finally and permanently resolve the border controversy with neighbouring Venezuela must be seen as anti-Guyana. Women For Change calls on Guyanese across the political divide to put our homeland first and suppress any effort that could lead to civil disobedience and resultant suppressed development,” it added.