The opposition People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) yesterday staged a demonstration outside of the Public Buildings against President David Granger’s controversial appointment of retired judge James Patterson as the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) Chairman.
Moments before the National Assembly reconvened after an almost three-month-long recess, scores of PPP/C supporters, including some Members of Parliament (MPs), pressed the call for the withdrawal of the unilateral appointment, which followed his rejection of three lists of nominees that were submitted to him.
There were over 150 persons participating in the protest, with some holding placards opposing the appointment. “Recall the Gecom chairman appointment,” “Patterson not Fit and Proper,” “Granger has violated our constitution,” “Social Cohesion a farce,” and Granger/Moses/ APNU/ AFC has no respect for our constitution,” were among the messages inscribed on the placards. These were further complemented by chants of “Dictator Granger,” “Not fit and proper” “Free and fair elections” and “Who can’t be trusted? Granger!”
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who was on the picket line, said Granger’s appointment of Patterson had abandoned 25 years of history between the PPP and the PNC and he charged that the president had even diverted from the latter’s own interpretation of the constitution.”
Granger, who is the leader of the PNCR, had initially indicated a preference for a judge or person qualified to be a judge for the post of Gecom Chairman, although he was neither when he himself had been nominated by then opposition leader Desmond Hoyte.
“This is the first time in over 25 years a president has not elected someone from a list submitted by the leader of the opposition,” Jagdeo said, while stressing that Granger acted illegally by appointing someone who was not a part of the lists submitted.
According to the opposition leader, the president should have provided reasons why he found the names of the 18 persons nominated “unfit and improper.”
“If you feel these were bad choices, then say why, as is the law now. The Chief Justice’s ruling is now law until overturned. In the judgment, the Chief Justice posed the question and give her answers clearly,” Jagdeo argued.
Jagdeo also claimed that the president and his government were making the appointment about race but he asserted that even if he had nominated 18 Afro-Guyanese, the president would have discarded them in favour of “an Afro-Guyanese who is pro PNC and that is not provided for by the constitution….”
“The president has taken a very divisive action that is polarising the country and making this a racial issue,” said Jagdeo, who himself has been accused of sowing ethnic division.
Jagdeo also said that the PPP/C would slowly escalate protests to draw attention to the “illegal” action of the president.
He noted that these activities would “highlight to the country how strongly we feel about values of democracy and freedom.”
Meanwhile, PPP/C supporter Faizal Jafferally also said that President Granger’s appointment “was a clear violation, with no respect for the constitution.” He added that they decided to protest the president’s action because his party strongly believes it is an attack on democracy in Guyana.
He further said that his party “will leave no stone unturned, we will continue to protest, day in and day out here in Georgetown or across the regions to ensure this unilateral appointment is rescinded.”
Another supporter echoed similar sentiments, while stating that if the president wants to foster social cohesion, he needs to respect Guyanese and the laws. “We will fight it to stop this nonsense. He went against his own words and the spirit of this nation and he is calling for social cohesion but this is not the way to get social cohesion. He has to bring his people together by respecting the law,” the supporter said.
Ramdial Persaud, another supporter, also expressed concerns over Patterson’s age and his ability to function as the Chairman.
In addition to the PPP/C protestors, supporters of the government congregated on the sidelines. One indicated that they were there to see the president and watch out for their ministers.
One government supporter said she believed Patterson was a fair choice since he has a judicial background. “I don’t think he would take sides. He was a judge and he knows how to be fair and just…” the supporter said.