The Alliance For Change (AFC) yesterday announced that it will be contesting the November 12th local government elections on its own following inconclusive talks with its governing coalition partner, APNU.
Coming after months of sporadic talks between the two sides on a deal, the decision will be seen as the most serious strain in the three-year-old coalition since a much earlier attempt by the AFC to curtail the powers of Minister of State Joseph Harmon.
Going alone to the polls will be seen as a serious test for the AFC as many analysts have said that coalescing with APNU in 2015 and not being able to rein it in once in government has resulted in the party losing the support which had first propelled it to five seats in the 2006 general election and seven seats in 2011. It currently holds 12 seats in Parliament following the Cummingsburg Accord with APNU in 2015 and had been hoping for a similar deal for the local government elections in November. However, APNU appeared to have balked at this and was not inclined to grant any more concessions to it.
A statement from the AFC yesterday said that the “… decision was reached following the inconclusive negotiations with APNU. This applies only for LGE 2018 and does not, in any way, affect the APNU+AFC Coalition Government, nor does it, in any way, change the AFC’s position on coalition politics at the national level. The AFC remains, and reaffirms that it is, committed to the APNU+AFC Coalition”.
The statement said that the party’s Management Committee has resolved into the LGE Campaign Committee and is chaired by David Patterson who has been appointed Campaign Director. Juretha Fernandes has been named Deputy Campaign Director. Appointments to other positions will be done subsequently.
“The AFC is in full preparation mode for LGE, including hosting meetings in the various constituencies and identifying potential candidates who will be subject to a rigorous internal vetting process before official appointment. Candidates will be addressing the local issues which are of concern to citizens and working collaboratively to find practical and implementable solutions.
“The party is currently determining which municipalities and constituencies it will strategically contest as it does not envision contesting in each Neighbour-hood Democratic Council and in every constituency of all municipalities until subsequent election cycles”, the statement added.
The AFC said it is confident in the support it will continue to receive from the people of Guyana and said that it will only nominate candidates of the highest calibre and quality.
The AFC announcement yesterday appears to have been a sudden decision as only days earlier, party leader Raphael Trotman had told Stabroek News that he did not expect a decision to be arrived at until APNU held its biennial delegates congress later this month.
He had said then that the AFC had already ex-pressed its willingness to go to the polls as part of a coalition and was waiting on APNU to decide on the way forward.
“The AFC has already stated its position that it is prepared to contest as a coalition and barring a rejection of this position by the APNU, we expect to be in a coalition. What, however, remains to be worked out are the modalities for how that coalition will be structured. Everyone accepts that a formula as used for the 2015 General Elections cannot simply be applied to LGE [local government elections], so some hybrid system or combination of systems has to be utilised,” Trotman had said on July 26.
The AFC will now have to decide which areas it will contest. Under fierce attack from the opposition PPP over the last three years, the AFC would risk being wiped out in Berbice areas where it had attracted votes in 2006 and 2011. Two of its key leaders: Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan hail from the Berbice area but even at the 2015 general elections the coalition was heavily defeated in this area. The dismantling of the sugar industry by the APNU+AFC government – which has left thousands of Berbicians without jobs – will also work against the AFC in these areas.
Going it alone, the AFC would be under pressure to establish an independent identity and would have difficulty doing this because of its seeming capitulation to APNU. One key decision was its support for President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of a Chairman of GECOM. Several overseas members of the AFC revolted against this decision.
Political observers will also note that the decision to go it alone comes days after two key members of the AFC abstained during a vote in Parliament that resulted in the opposition PPP/C defeating a government motion for the first time since 2015. Though the two AFC MPs: Khemraj Ramjattan and Dominic Gaskin said that they did not have sufficient information for a positive vote, the abstentions would have been seen as a signal to APNU and also a reflection of how unstable the government could be made.
After the historic 2016 local government elections, AFC members had complained that APNU had taken the lion’s share of seats. This was one of the reasons why the AFC was hoping for an accord for the upcoming election.
Analysts say an AFC decision to contest in the municipality of Georgetown could put APNU under pressure. AFC councillors have adamantly opposed several unpopular decisions spearheaded by APNU councillors including the notorious parking meter initiative which was widely condemned in the city. AFC councillors, in alliance with other groups on the council, have also opposed the style of governance of city Mayor Patricia Chase-Green and other APNU councillors. The AFC councillors have also been critical of Town Clerk Royston King.
Last evening the opposition PPP castigated the AFC on its announcement.
In a statement the PPP said:
“The deceitful, unscrupulous politics of the Alliance for Change (AFC) has reared its ugly head once again. This political party, since (coalescing) with the APNU in 2015, has adopted inconsistent, flip-flopping and deceptive political postures as it struggles to survive as a relevant political force. We have seen how it flip-flopped on many issues in the past, including; the parking meter contract, VAT on education, the sugar industry and even before they entered into the Coalition, Khemraj Ramjattan is on public record saying that the AFC will never enter into a Coalition with the APNU/PNC because if it does so, it will be `dead meat’.
“In short, the AFC has consistently taken public positions on issues, attempting to fool the populace in so doing, only to strengthen its negotiation leverage with APNU.
“The announcement that it will contest the upcoming Local Government Elections separate from APNU is part of this ploy. Again, the intent can be gleaned from its public statement in which it indicated that it will not contest in all of the Local Authority areas. The trickery is that they will come into certain PPP strongholds in which APNU will not contest, as a Trojan horse, pretending to be independent of the APNU in order to garner some sympathy votes in these areas.
That they think they can pull off such clumsy stunts is illustrative of the lack of respect which they have for the intelligence of the Guyanese electorate.
“We call upon every single Guyanese not to allow themselves to be used by this moribund cabal of untrustworthy politicians, grasping at the last straw for their survival”.