THE SKY WILL NOT FALL
THE sky will not fall. No, not at all. Not on September 18, the day after, or at any other time at all.
However, anti-government elements have arbitrarily named September 18 – yes, Wednesday coming – as the drop-dead date for the holding of fresh elections! It will not happen; it cannot happen!
They had petitioned the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s highest court, to name September 18 as the deadline for elections. But the CCJ declined jurisdiction to do so, and refused to set any time-frame within which these elections could be held.
The CCJ ruled that it was for the constitutional players – the Parliament, Elections Commission, President and Opposition Leader – who could best do this in fulfilment of the requirements of Guyana’s Constitution and through a consultative process.
The CCJ was vindicated after the consultative process resulted in a new Chairman of the Elections Commission, over whose selection there had been political gridlock, being appointed. Both the President and Opposition Leader were engaged in what the CCJ had recommended to be a “hammering out” process.
The anti-government elements had wrongly interpreted a provision of the Constitution that required, after the passage of a confidence motion, new elections to be held within 90 days. Should the elections not be held within that time-frame, Parliament could extend the period by a motion that is supported by a two-thirds majority of the members of the National Assembly.
On December 21, 2018, the Speaker of the House had ruled that a confidence motion against the popularly elected APNU+AFC Coalition Government was carried. Both President Granger and I made public statements that we accepted the Speaker’s ruling. But, a few days later, when the Speaker expressed grave doubts as to whether the constitutional threshold for passage of such a motion had been met, he threw wide open the door to judicial challenges –- a process that remains active as I write, though unquestionably abused.
NO SECOND 90 DAYS
With the Judiciary seized by the matter, the 90 days within which elections should be held, lapsed on March 21, 2019. At the end of appeals, the CCJ upheld on June 18, 2019, that the confidence motion was validly passed, but it did not order any mandatory period within which elections should be held.
In my view the CCJ did not, and could not write into the Guyana Constitution a second 90 days within which elections should be held. If it did, then the new election date should be on or before September 18.
There is no second 90 days. September 18 is a fiction, a figment in the infertile imagination of the political opposition.
So, I repeat: nothing will happen, or ought to happen, on this date, except for the possible return on this date of a notorious former colleague, former government leaders have nothing over which they should celebrate!
Within the context of ethno-racial cleavages and their exploitation historically to serve the ends of political tribalism in Guyana, the no-confidence motion has opened old wounds, and it cannot be seen simply as a dramatic parliamentary episode or an uncharted constitutional development. It is to the credit of our government and all Guyanese that the country remains united, calm, stable and peaceful in what would be one of its most difficult periods.
The inter-play of the judiciary therefore was a necessary intervention that lifted the impact of the sordid event of conspiracy, defection and betrayal above the political arena. It also allowed a cooling-off period for the elections commission to embark on preparations for early and credible elections, which include re-compilation of updated data of persons who are eligible to vote in elections.
The update has a 10-year cycle. It was last done in 2008 through a tedious house-to-house registration process, which forms the legitimate basis for the 2018 exercise. Guyanese 14 years and above are registered to create a national register of registrants. A voters list is later extracted from the register.
EARLY AND CREDIBLE
All Guyanese want early but credible elections. But at the core of serious concerns on all sides is the need for a clean list of electors.
Guyana has had in its post-independence period bitter experiences with elections, with one of those being described by Lord Chitnis from the British Parliamentary Observer Mission, as “crooked as barbed wire.” There are credible concerns that the voters list used in the last 2015 elections was bloated with names of unverified persons. This is the list that the PPP/C, now in opposition, wants for upcoming elections.
It appears now, from disclosures made on Friday last, that the elections commission is working towards year-end elections. Towards this end, it may be useful for the parliamentary political parties themselves to agree on a flexible but suitable time-frame, even if it flows over to early January.
Now is the time to say whether these elections should be held during the Christmas season, and whether it would be convenient for the many observer teams expected from abroad.
But these are practical matters that the elections commission would have to consider, and factor into its preparations for what would surely be crucial elections in Guyana.
This time around, the preparations are being made in the environment of a functioning, open and free parliamentary democracy, under which all constitutional bodies, such as the elections commission, enjoy full independence.
In spite of anxieties over early elections, the rights and freedom of all citizens are fully secured and protected. The government operates on an interim footing but does all routine functions from which citizens benefit. The Constitution invests in the Executive President and his interim government a life that goes beyond elections, until a new President is sworn in. The APNU+AFC Government therefore enjoys both de jure and de facto status. Its legitimacy flows from the nation’s Constitution and from the overwhelming majority of our people who support it.
It is in this context that the opposition must temper with responsibility its characterisation of our government as “illegal” from September 18. This is an invitation for anarchy. Worse, it is a treacherous proposition in the face of an enemy that has falsely laid claim to five-eights of our territory and all of our newly discovered oil and gas resources. Our people are placed on guard!
I repeat: The sky will not fall. No, not at all!