New political party to press for constitution reform

-Ramkarran, Jeffrey, Timothy Jonas, Terrence Campbell key figures

A new political party helmed by former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran, political consultant Dr Henry Jeffrey, attorney Timothy Jonas, and businessman Terrence Campbell will be launched in the coming days with constitutional reform for inclusive governance the cornerstone of its platform.

The shock passage of a no-confidence motion against the David Granger-led APNU+AFC government on Friday has hastened the launch of the party, A New and United Guyana, which has been gathering form over the past year. General elections are expected in the first quarter of next year after the passage of the no-confidence motion toppled the government.

In a statement to Stabroek News, A New and United Guyana has emphasised that its primary and immediate, though not sole, objective, is to promote constitutional reform leading to inclusive governance. It believes that the pressing need to reform governance mechanisms to reflect inclusive governance is the most urgent issue now facing Guyanese. It has pledged not to join in a coalition with either of the major parties should it not secure a majority or plurality of votes at the elections. Notwithstanding, it would work to ensure that the major political parties are part of the government.

The new party is likely to shake up the local political landscape with citizens clamouring for an alternative to the APNU+AFC coalition and the PPP/C. That clamour has reached fever-pitch since the passage of the no-confidence motion on Friday night with debates raging on social media and on the streets. Many are disappointed at the failure of the APNU+AFC government to fulfill key campaign promises since its election to office in 2015 and are similarly skeptical of the Bharrat Jagdeo-aligned likely frontrunners that would lead the PPP/C.

The new party has reached out to leaders of the Liberal and Justice Party (LJP), founded by indigenous leader Lenox Shuman, which is slated for launch on January 12. Shuman has made no secret of his plan to appeal to the indigenous electorate whose support is crucial if either of the two main afro and indo-based parties are to gain a majority of the votes. Both Ramkarran and Jeffrey have written and spoken extensively about the potential for a party that attracts the indigenous electorate to shake up the political dynamics in the country.

With the four principals of A New and United Guyana being older males, the party would also have to rapidly attract and promote other groupings if it is to gain credibility and win broad support, a point which it has recognised.

“We expected elections sometime (in 2020)  and were only in the preparatory stages of establishing our party. We accept the need to broaden our representation to include all ethnicities, genders, religions and youth in the party and its leadership and will work towards that end,” the principals said in the statement made available to Stabroek News.

Additionally, with virtually no machinery in place, it remains to be seen how quickly the party will be able to gear up for the elections.

Of the quartet, Ramkarran is the one with the most political experience. A two-term Speaker of the National Assembly and a member of the PPP for nearly 50 years, Ramkarran, a Senior Counsel, quit the PPP in 2012 after calling out the party on matters of corruption. Writing in the PPP’s Mirror newspaper, he had said that corruption was pervasive and the government needed to do something about it. The PPP’s hierarchy blasted him for his stance which he did not resile from and instead chose to resign. His weekly columns, mainly on political matters, are published in the Sunday Stabroek.

Jeffrey had been a minister in the PPP/C government from 1992 to 2008 holding various portfolios including Foreign Trade & International Cooperation; Education; Health & Labour; and Labour, Housing, Human Services & Social Security. He is a columnist for the Stabroek News and has written expensively on political issues.

Jonas, a partner in the law firm of de Caires Fitzpatrick & Karran, has been Head of the Bar Association and is a current member of the Bar Council. He is also the legal advisor to the advocacy group RISE (Reform, Inspire, Sustain and Educate) which has constitutional reform as a key component of its advocacy.

Campbell is also a member of RISE. He is the Chief Executive Officer of CAMEX Ltd which holds the franchises for Church’s Chicken, Mario’s Pizza, Quiznos and Pollo Tropical, with restaurants across the coast.

 

Harmony

In recounting the move to establish the party, the statement said that Ramkarran, Jeffrey, Jonas and Campbell, “four Guyanese concerned citizens,” have been engaged in discussions for the better part of this year on what they can do, if anything, to assist in resolving the difficult problems of moving Guyana forward in harmony and for the benefit of all Guyanese.

“We entered our discussions without any preconceived notions of what could be done, if anything,” the quartet said.

It was pointed out that the majority of the electorate, albeit a bare majority, welcomed the election of the APNU+AFC government in 2015 and many looked forward to a change, not only in policies but also in a reduction of the divisions that have beset Guyana for decades.

“We were all very impressed with the APNU+AFC manifesto promise in 2015 to implement reforms to our Constitution that would allow separate presidential elections, the prime minister coming from the party obtaining the second highest votes, and each party securing 15 percent or more votes to have a share in the Government. We believed that this accorded with the broad sentiments and interests of the Guyanese people and that they would wholeheartedly support such changes,” the statement said.

“We believed that such changes would have ended adversarial politics in Guyana and would have ensured that the interests of every ethnic group are protected. We noted that the Opposition clearly stated that it was not opposed to constitutional reform and we were therefore hopeful that it would have embraced this process,” it said.

According to the statement, by the time the quartet began their discussions, it had become clear that the Government had no intention of honouring its election promise of constitutional reform.

“As a result of this failure, politics as usual has continued, thereby perpetuating the divisions even as Guyana has discovered petroleum resources that will transform our country. The ethno-political discord has continued, the sterile political differences have dominated, mutual allegations of corruption flow continuously, ethnic discrimination is alleged, no political agreements of consequence have emerged and the continuation of political instability which has long inhibited economic development has continued,” the statement said.

“With the experience of two unstable governments, the continuation of the internecine discord reflective of ethno-political disputes and need for a higher degree of political unity to deal with the enormous and urgent problems of devising systems and structures to cope with and manage the new petroleum industry, we believe that the urgent necessity to reform governance mechanisms to reflect inclusive governance is self-evident and is the most urgent issue now facing the Guyanese people,” the quartet declared.

 

Synergies

According to the four, they decided that the only way in which they can effectively promote their vision for Guyana and effect the changes necessary, is to enter the political process and to utilise the synergies within it to achieve their objectives.

“We therefore decided to establish a new political party to be called A New and United Guyana. Its primary and immediate, though not sole, objective, is to promote constitutional reform leading to inclusive governance,” the statement said.

It emphasised that they have a full menu of proposals to deal with all aspects of governance and have been working on those to be published at an appropriate time.

“We will announce those proposals and seek the support of the Guyanese people for them in the election campaign. We will implement them if the Guyanese people elect us to office. In relation to

constitutional reform, we believe that the APNU+AFC manifesto proposals are a good starting point for national debate. We will consider our own proposals at a later date and in doing so will rely on a free debate among the Guyanese people,” it said.

The four observed that they are very cognisant of the history of third parties in Guyana. “While we hope to obtain the confidence of the Guyanese people at the forthcoming elections to become the majority party, or one holding the plurality, we understand that for the time being we will be categorised as a third party with the usual negative connotations, having regard to the history of the TUF, and more recently, the AFC,” the statement said.

“We would like to assure the Guyanese people that, if we do not secure a majority or plurality of votes at the elections, under no circumstance will we ever join in a coalition with either of the major parties to sustain it in office or for ourselves to gain political office or positions,” it asserted.

The quartet said that they would make the pledge subject to trial in court.

“We will offer to make this promise justiciable so that if we violate it we can be taken to court. We are aware that such promises have been made before. It was made by a party that predicted that it will become “dead meat” if it aligned itself with one of the major parties. That prediction has come through. And it will come through for our party if we do the same,” the statement said.

The four emphasised that they are not in this for political or financial gain or office.

“We are in it for bringing about the unity of the Guyanese people by ensuring that all Guyanese, regardless of ethnicity, and all young people, would feel secure in the expectation that their interests and welfare will be protected. This would be so because on our proposals, the major political parties, hopefully including our own, which are supported by the vast majority of Guyanese, will be part of the government defending their interests. Guyanese who support one of the major parties, therefore, should feel no sense of betrayal of their party of preference by supporting our Party because our struggle is to get all major parties participating in the government,” they declared.

It was noted that elections were not expected so soon and they were only in the preparatory stages of establishing the party. It was recognised that the party would need to broaden its representation to include all ethnicities, genders, religions and youth in the party and its leadership and the four pledged to work towards that end.

“We expect a large influx of friends, well-wishers and young people and from among the tens of thousands of Guyanese who are dissatisfied and are looking for leadership. We expect to provide a political home for all Guyanese. We invite all civil society organisations and other political groups and parties to support our agenda,” the statement said. It was noted that they have been in discussions with leaders of the LJP.

“We look forward to more discussions to develop close cooperation. It is because of the fast moving events that we now take the opportunity to make this announcement at this time,” they said.

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