Gov’t, opposition compromise needed to avert constitutional crisis -Ramkarran

Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran addressing the forum

Warning that “major calamity” is on the horizon, A New and United Guyana (ANUG) co-founder Ralph Ramkarran on Wednesday said the government and opposition should agree on a compromise to extend the approaching constitutional deadline for the holding of general elections.

Speaking at a panel discussion organised by the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre at Red House on Wednesday evening on whether Guyana is heading towards a constitutional crisis, Ramkarran said he believed that government seemed oblivious to the repercussions of its failure to abide by the constitution and the recent court ruling by Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire upholding a no-confidence motion that was passed against it.    

The passage of the motion, currently the subject of a legal challenge brought by government, requires that Cabinet, including the President, resign and that elections are held within three months, unless an extension is agreed to by a two-thirds majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly.

Warning that diplomatic missions and international bodies will leave, international trade will be hindered and Guyana could face possible sanctions, Ramkarran said a solution is needed soon and in this regard he urged government and the opposition to swiftly resolve the issue so that a date could be set for the holding of general elections.

From left are the panel’s moderator, People’s Progressive Party MP Dr. Frank Anthony, accountant Nigel Hinds, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran.

“The solution to the problem is to have an agreement with the Leader of the Opposition for a date for elections—maybe an extended date. I’m sure the Leader of the Opposition will not begrudge some extra time to give the Elections Commission some extra time to get itself in order,” the former Speaker of the National Assembly said.

Ramkarran disclosed that he asked the visiting representatives of the Carter Center to also propose a solution to government and the opposition to avoid the country experiencing a constitutional crisis. 

“The diplomatic community will withdraw their activity. The international community and organisations like the UNDP will leave and the IDB and World Bank etcetera will stop lending monies. They will also stop their activities. Everything will grind to a halt,” he said.

“We don’t know if the banks will be able to send money abroad. If the correspondent banks stop dealing with Guyana… import and exports cannot take place… so a major calamity is brewing,” he added.

Some of the attendees at the meeting

Ramkarran said that he met with representatives of the Carter Center, who are here as part of an “exploratory mission” to gather information on preparations for the holding of general and regional elections, and shared similar views to the ones he was presenting on Wednesday evening.  “I suggested to the Carter Center people that they might make a suggestion for a solution,” he noted.

The Carter Center team, which includes its Associate Director Brett Lacy and Legal and Elec-toral Advisor Anne Marlborough, has also met with government officials, Guyana Elections Com-mission officials, the Leader of the Opposition and members of civil society.

He lamented that Guyana’s citizenry has been put in crisis situations for decades due to the selfishness of the country’s political leaders, who know that together they could bring unity and equality but chose not to address constitutional reform and other mechanisms that could yield these results. 

“We have lived in various crises that the Guyanese people do not deserve,” he said. “Indians are afraid when Africans are in power and both sides feel the same way. The same fears Indians have Africans have,” he noted before adding that all the politicians “know what is the solution to bring these groups together” but choose not to.

Ramkarran reiterated his previously stated position that President David Granger is defying the country’s constitution by not resigning with his Cabinet and setting a date for elections within the three-month timeframe.

With no steps taken by government to adhere to the Chief Justice’s ruling, which is being appealed, Ramkarran said that government appears disrespectful of the rule of law and the country’s judiciary. “I don’t know what will happen. He is saying he is president and the president stays in office until the next president is elected. He conveniently leaves out the next clause, which says elections must be held in three months,” he stressed.

President Granger recently said the government would not violate Guyana’s Constitution, while indicating that it could appeal the no-confidence motion case all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which is Guyana’s final court of appeal.

But with each day it fails to abide by the ruling, Ramkarran said, the government is pushing the country deeper towards a constitutional crisis that would see an ungovernable land. Such a situation, he posited, is being anticipated by Venezuela, which is keenly observing the political situation here.

“Of course Venezuela will take advantage of Guyana. Venezuela has been for decades telling investors not to invest in Guyana… Of course the Vene-zuelans are watching and one cannot predict what they will do,” he told an attendee who asked if a constitutional crisis could see the neighbouring nation taking advantage of it.

Ramkarran said that the APNU+AFC should not alone face criticisms for failing to adhere to the laws as the PPP/C had made no move to remove its Members of Parliament with dual citizenship although their status violated the constitution, which was reinforced by the Chief Justice in her ruling.

The panel was moderated by People’s Progressive Party Exe-cutive Dr. Frank Anthony and also featured former Attorney General Anil Nandlall and accountant Nigel Hinds.

Anthony was quick to point out that the forum was not a party event and was being held on behalf of the Research Centre, while Nandlall also made clear that he spoke in his personal capacity and not for the party.  

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