After all the expectations generated by the promises of the 2015 campaign, and the hope that some tinkering, at least, would be done on the Constitution to make our political world a little less stressful, here we are again, back to square one. Rationality, it seems, is not a quality much in evidence among our politicians, and the ability to compromise neither. Politics here is all about gaining power, not about doing what is best for the country as a whole and all segments of the population within it.
When they are out of office, the parties agree that the framework within which we conduct our political business is in need of amendment, and then when they win an election, all that is forgotten. That particular habit, if such it can be called, began with Dr Cheddi Jagan, who was strident in his criticism of the 1980 Constitution before acceding to power, and then abandoned his commitment to change it once he became president. It was, of course, subsequently amended as a consequence of the Herdmanston Accord, and some necessary revisions were undertaken, but other critical modifications were left undone.
Be that as it may, we now find ourselves back in familiar terrain, with tension building up and the electorate suffering from a case of political fatigue coupled with a measure of unease. We had a national election in 2015, and a local election last year – both of them important and necessary, it might be added. And now there is to be another national election, except that this time it is beset by all kinds of uncertainties.
It is true that long prior to current events, President David Granger was making decisions which were open to the interpretation that a delay in holding the election due in 2020 might not come amiss. Among various other things, there was his constitutional misinterpretations and procrastination relating to the appointment of a GECOM Chairman, despite the Leader of the Opposition more than fulfilling his constitutional requirement in respect of the process. Then to cap it all, the President unilaterally appointed someone controversial to the chairmanship, who was in any case an octogenarian. It all created an atmosphere of lack of trust, which did nothing to enhance the political climate.
The new appointee, Justice Patterson, is now being put to the test, but as Monday’s editorial pointed out, he has failed to provide answers on the Commission’s preparedness to hold elections within the stipulated time period, and this has raised public fear about his engagement. That time period is set out in the Constitution, which requires that an election be held within ninety days of a successful no-confidence vote. But now we have the coalition government ratcheting up the tension by refusing to accept the result of that vote, which they have been attempting to get de-recognised by the court on grounds so flimsy that even the most ill-informed of lay persons cannot take them seriously. They have already lost their case in front of the Chief Justice, but in defiance of her ruling and all logic, are intent on appealing the decision.
As if all of this were not enough, the government took supporters out onto the street near the GECOM office last week in a lunch-time protest, à la the parking meter demonstrations. “No registration! No election! The youth must vote!” they were reported as chanting. This was a reference to house-to-house registration, a lengthy process which would make a delay in the holding of a national poll inevitable. The existing voters’ list expires on April 30. The Chief Election Officer has said that one option would be to forgo house-to-house registration and use the claims and objections exercise to clean the list which could be ready in two months. However, according to two Commissioners, the GECOM Secretariat only offered July as the earliest date for elections, which would be more than three months after the constitutional deadline and two months after the current voters’ list expires.
It might be noted that among the participants protesting were four government ministers, the Mayor of Georgetown and several of his councillors. Apart from campaigning to create a constitutional predicament, they are not averse, it would seem, to increasing apprehension among citizens with their demands.
For its part, the PPP has held its own protest in the vicinity of GECOM rejecting the timelines for general elections drawn up by the Commission’s Secretariat. “What do we want? Elections!” they chorused; “The clock is ticking, we ain’t tekking tricking.” We quoted Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo as commenting, “We believe the timeline can be compressed to allow for elections within the constitutionally due period.”
At this stage, it is the government which is responsible for escalating the political tensions by refusing to accept Chief Justice George’s ruling and hold elections by the mandated date of March 19. Exactly how they think they are going to proceed after that date, when they will be an illegal government and at a minimum may well find themselves facing censure from European nations, for example, and at a maximum even the eventual lack of recognition, is not clear. They should cast their minds back to the case of former President Ramotar, who was not able to withstand the pressure over his prorogation of Parliament in the end.
In the meantime, of course, the man and woman in the street have to bear the burden of friction in the political arena and the feeling of insecurity which comes with that. This time around it is not the PPP which is largely responsible for the current increase in temperature, it is a government which promised a change of approach and which has failed to make that change. Are our politicians surprised that so many Guyanese want to leave their homeland, particularly if they have skills of any kind, and that the country never gets a chance to properly develop? Will our politicians never learn that the voters on whom they depend are suffering from political games fatigue?