AFC to proceed with local gov’t campaign

-as deal with APNU still to be agreed

Still to finalise an arrangement with coalition partner A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to contest upcoming local government polls, the Alliance For Change (AFC) yesterday decided that it will continue to campaign on its own and will begin identifying its candidates.

The party made the announcement last evening, hours after the conclusion of a special meeting of its National Executive Committee (NEC) focusing solely on the Local Government Elections (LGE), which are due by December this year.

The meeting, which was held at the Sophia Exhibition Centre in Georgetown, saw the attendance of NEC members, leaders from all ten administrative regions and members from the Diaspora groups.

According to a statement issued by the party last evening, after “frank and robust” discussions by the delegates, the party agreed that having already commenced its LGE campaign, has started to identify candidates in each Municipality and Neighbourhood Democratic Council and that the negotiations with APNU with regard to contesting the LGE on a joint platform will continue.

The party has given no indication as to when the next discussion with APNU will take place.

When approached by the media yesterday, AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan declined to speak on the outcome of the meeting. “Absolutely no comment…,” he said before describing the meeting as “fantastic,” while adding that the outcome shows the strength and capacity of the AFC. He stressed that the quality of the debates and the decision-making were of an exceptionally high standard. Like him, NEC member Cathy Hughes gave the meeting a good review.

In its statement, the AFC explained that the meeting mapped out a “pre-campaign plan of action” and the broad outlines of strategic plans for the campaigns in each of the nine administrative regions in which LGE will be contested. The processes for identifying candidates, issues of concerns to citizens, campaign structure, methodologies, organisation and funding and other matters were discussed and decisions taken, it said, before informing that the NEC will reconvene on July 28th, 2018, to further advance the LGE campaign and take further strategic decisions.

This newspaper was reliably informed that former AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes made a 15 minute presentation in which he gave his views on the party campaigning for the LGE as well as the achievements in the various ministries it controls.

Senior AFC members told Sunday Stabroek that the party believes that if it goes alone to the polls, it will come out successful. “All we want is a voice …a few seats…and I am confident that we will get that,” a source said while stressing that there are areas where the AFC has a high level of support, while APNU has almost none. So high is the confidence level in the AFC camp, that there are many who believe that the party can make inroads in Georgetown, even if it goes solo. Traditionally, Georgetown is a strong-hold of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), which is the main constituent of APNU. “In some areas, they [APNU] could only get like five votes and we came and rescued them,” a source stressed.

According to a senior member of the AFC, the party feels that it can no longer wait around on APNU since the date for the elections is fast approaching. “APNU is out there campaigning… so we are going to campaign too… and whatever happens, happens,” the source said, while stressing that it really does not matter if the two contest as one or separately.

It was pointed out that a sour point in the discussions is APNU’s proposal that they campaign separately, following which seats would be divided according to the LGE results.

AFC insiders also told Sunday Stabroek that the party is not pleased about the way it is being treated by APNU. A source explained that there is a feeling that APNU is seeking to dominate the AFC although the latter had provided a large portion of the campaign financing for the 2015 elections. “All those billboards that were around the place, was the AFC,” the source said

Based on what was told to this newspaper, AFC members are very unhappy with the level of support it is getting from APNU. Aside from the LGE, a party insider pointed to APNU’s silence on matters of importance, including the marijuana bill proposed by an AFC member in the National Assembly.

An icebreaking meeting between the two parties was held on May 7th and was supposed to set the stage for the beginning of substantive talks on whether LGE would be contested together. It is unclear how many formal engagements the two have had since then.

The AFC had said it will press its governing coalition partner for an accord on the LGE.

Any such accord could see the AFC, which holds twelve of the coalition seats in the National Assembly, being assigned a certain number of seats in the city council and in local government organs where it is presumed to have support.

Sources close to the negotiations had told this newspaper that while the AFC will start its proposals at a 60 percent to 40 percent share of LGE seats, in favour of the APNU, it will be willing to accept an eighty percent to 20 percent split.

So frustrated was the AFC at one point that it gave its coalition partner a two-week ultimatum to make its position known.

The party had mandated its leader Raphael Trotman take the course of action and it was as a result of this that the icebreaking meeting was held.

Ramjattan had said in early April  that a decision was made between the AFC and APNU to retain their coalition for the 2018 LGE and that a letter had been dispatched to APNU Leader President David Granger requesting a meeting to “thrash out matters” before campaigning begins.

In mid-April, Trotman had told this newspaper that while no formal meetings had been held as yet on the matter, he expected that the two sides would “meet soon.”

Sources had said that the president formally replied to the letter on Monday, April 30th, more than two months after he was written to by the AFC for consideration of matters which were originally to be hammered out by February 14th this year, the third anniversary of the Cummingsburg Accord which birthed the APNU+AFC coalition. The absence of a date for the meeting in the letter did not go down well with the AFC.

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