As the no-confidence motion clock runs down towards the end of the three-month period for the staging of general elections, there has been a flurry of accusations back and forth between President Granger and Opposition Leader Jagdeo about who is responsible for the present deadlock.
It remains the case that it is the responsibility of both Messrs Granger and Jagdeo to arrive at a deal for general elections which adheres to the constitutional framework. They must lose no opportunity to foster a solution in the paramount interest of the country. In the remaining days before March 21 they must work overtime through the various channels to strike a deal.
President Granger has proceeded to Cuba for further treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. With Thursday being the deadline for securing a Parliamentary extension of the period for elections it is unclear whether the President will be back by then for decisions to be made or whether the requisite powers have been delegated. This is of great interest to the public.
It is important to recap the proximate reasons why the country faces a constitutional crisis on March 22 without the parliamentary extension and the likelihood that major sectors of the society here and the international community will consider the APNU+AFC government to be illegal. The present crisis has been generated by the government’s obstinate refusal to immediately act upon the constitutional stricture that general elections be held in three months following the successful passage of a motion of no-confidence in Parliament against it on December 21st. Aside from the briefest flowering of recognition of the motion, the government and its key leaders then set about laying the basis for defying its import and what was required. All the while ignoring the constitution, they injudiciously placed their faith in the courts for a stay of the 90-day clock which legal analysts had said was a hopeless cause and to date there has been no judicial relief for them.
President Granger issued no signal to GECOM to begin the process of preparing for early general elections until a letter of February 25th this year. This was a full 66 days after the successful motion of December 21st, 2018 and will rank as the single most significant act of defiance of the constitution in relation to honouring the motion. It was then impossible for elections to be held within the period remaining thereby necessitating a parliamentary extension still to be obtained. The President has still not explained to the Republic why he defaulted for 66 days and he must do so.
It was then the turn of GECOM to play an obstructionist role in aiding the government’s agenda to delay general elections. As we have said before in these columns, it was GECOM’s constitutional responsibility to take note of the no-confidence vote in the National Assembly on December 21st and to begin the requisite planning in anticipation of the naming of a date for the elections. It has thus far done nothing and it was only on February 21 – 62 days after the passage of the motion – that it wrote advising the President of its inability to meet the three-month deadline.
Meanwhile, the government-nominated members of GECOM are insisting that house-to-house registration be held before the next general election. As much as house-to-house registration for the purposes of a new list is an admirable project, it runs completely counter to the immediacy for elections as set out by the constitution. The insistence on house-to-house registration by these commissioners and senior government officials rings hollow and constitutes a clear attempt to defy the constitution. Credible elections can properly be conducted with the list that was used for the November 12, 2018 local government elections with the requisite period for claims and objections.
The government’s strategy now is to behold the constitutionally-moated independence of GECOM and to use that as an excuse for the inability to set an early date for general elections. That strategy fools no one except that it now places the country at grave risk of being declared as being led by a government that has engaged in unconstitutional behaviour and is therefore illegal.
From the moment of the unilateral appointment of Justice Patterson by President Granger it was clear to the discerning public that the groundwork had been laid by the government for the capture of GECOM and the ability to determine important matters such as the election date. The independence of GECOM in its seminal role of presiding over elections was compromised by the unilateral appointment by President Granger and the fallout today is there for all to see. This crisis is therefore attributable to President Granger and the compromised GECOM.
Whatever efforts are underway to solve the crisis, it would seem that a solution requires President Granger and Opposition Leader Jagdeo agreeing a reasonable date for general elections – perhaps three months from March 21 – and imploring GECOM to make every effort to fulfil its obligations. Then, presumably an extension of the period for general elections can be granted by two-thirds of the National Assembly.
It would be the height of irresponsibility and the dereliction of duty for the President to act in such a cavalier manner that his government is perceived to be illegal with all the adverse repercussions that can have on the country and its people. He must show leadership and do so urgently.