While the AFC’s capitulation to APNU/PNCR on the GECOM Chairmanship and constitutional reform has left it divided and struggling to stay relevant, an even bigger loss to national politics and public life is the cynicism that will now attend attempts by any political force or civil society group to carve out space to expand dialogue and representation.
The AFC had always been aware that when it allied with APNU in February 2015 to contest the general elections that it would face the existential threat of being overrun by the PNCR-led APNU and completely losing its distinct identity. It is a risk it took and one that it needed to manage and manage well after the alliance defeated the PPP/C in May 2015.
It has taken only 30 months for the AFC to be ensheathed in the worst crisis of its 12-year history with deep divisions and its wheels threatening to fall off. Not only did the AFC fail to put in place a mechanism to keep its partner in line, address the insecurities of all the country’s people and ensure fairness in hiring and assigning of senior positions but its three top leaders Messrs Khemraj Ramjattan, PM Moses Nagamootoo and Raphael Trotman patently became enraptured by the trappings and power of office and neglected their responsibilities to their constituency. That is why in the last 30 months there has been no real attempt by the AFC to ensure that even what was agreed in the Cummingsburg Accord was followed to the letter much less to comment critically on the behaviour of APNU. An early attempt to tame the powers of the Minister of State Joseph Harmon led to internal upheaval in the AFC which was a clear sign that it had no stomach for that fight and the capitulation was set in train from that point. Two court rulings against the government’s attempt to undermine constitutional commissions seem not to have registered any alarm in the AFC and now Mr Ramjattan, the Public Security Minister has told the Police Commissioner to remain on leave in what is a highly questionable act no doubt at the behest of the APNU decision makers.
Sceptics had already seen this vision of the AFC at the inception of the Cummingsburg Accord. In its handling of the GECOM Chairmanship, the party has abjectly delivered on that vision and this has been pointed out by some of its own members. All of the groups and individuals who have been eying the middle ground, rational discussion, constitutional reform, the swing votes, the independent-minded will now have an even tougher task to convince their listeners of their good intent to expand political discussion and social activism. They will be met with the constant refrain that the AFC made the same accountability commitments and promised a new political cultural but has failed hopelessly at this. It will take a hybrid of Gandhi, Mandela, Tendulkar and Federer to change anyone’s minds after the AFC’s sharp departure from its announced principles.
Caught now in the public glare over the internal dissent that has wracked the party since its support of the unilateral selection of retired Justice Patterson as GECOM Chairman, the AFC is now feigning injury. It has suddenly declared that it wants the Cummingsburg Accord revised by February 14th next year after sitting like a Cheshire cat for the last two and a half years. What a revised accord will do to revive its comatose state is left to be seen though no serious bets will be placed. It then embellished this farce by complaining about being sidelined again from the corridors of GECOM, after President Granger chose the WPA’s nominee, Mr Desmond Trotman ahead of its nominee Mr Trevor Williams. It would have to be said that Mr Trotman is eminently suited to the task while Mr Williams is quite unsuited. Perhaps the AFC was employing the tactic it and APNU accused the Opposition Leader of i.e. providing the names of unsuitable candidates to the President.
When the AFC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) met two weeks ago, it also failed to assuage public concerns about its decision-making. On the matter of the unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chairman, all it said was “The NEC formally endorsed the party’s decision to lend support to the decision of President David Granger in appointing Justice James Patterson as GECOM Chairman”.
This was a wholly unacceptable response considering the public’s awareness of the internal self-flagellation and even more disclosures about the positions of senior party leaders on the matter. There was no texture to the AFC’s NEC’s decision to endorse Justice Patterson’s appointment. The AFC’s constituency deserved to be formally advised that there were divisions over the issue but that in the end it was agreed to bless what had already occurred. Not even this was communicated to those in the public who have voted for the party since 2006 and who are not privy to party gatherings.
The AFC’s handling of the GECOM decision and others raises legitimate concerns about whether it is a real partner in the governing coalition and whether as an independent entity it can ever be viable again.