CELEBRATED in song, there is an old but familiar proverb: “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Nothing exemplifies this more than the selection by His Excellency President David Granger of the eminently qualified former Justice of Appeal Madam Claudette Singh S.C., for appointment as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) after a consensual process involving the leader of the opposition.

When she takes the Oath of Office tomorrow, Justice Singh will be the first woman to be appointed to this constitutional office. She will join an impressive galaxy of Guyanese women who have smashed the so-called glass ceiling by ascending to high offices.
Women form a significant component of our Cabinet and the National Assembly, and occupy posts such as chancellor of the judiciary, chief justice, director of public prosecutions, chief magistrate and judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

For years, confirmation of appointment of Guyanese jurists to the post of chancellor and chief justice, with permanent tenure, has been impaled on a constitutional gridlock. The President and the leader of the opposition have failed to meet the threshold for the appointment under a well-intentioned but rigid provision of the Constitution that goes beyond mere consultation, and requires bi-partisan agreement.

This is the antecedent of the Guyanese problematic where decision-making has been infected with the political virus of ethnic polarisation and partisan brinkmanship. Nothing comes easy in this South American republic with Caribbean characteristics, but our people have never surrendered the will to succeed.

The consensual approach under what should now be termed the Saunders Corollary to the Carter Formula, through a unique process of “hammering out” of nominees to find an eligible person who is not unacceptable to the President, is a revolutionary innovation. This judicial engineering has provided a stimulus to the political will not only to end unilateralism, but to succeed in problem-solving that could steer Guyana away from the precipice of future gridlock.

It has also given space for the President to play a role in the identification of nominees and, on a good-faith basis, for leader of the opposition to submit the final list of six persons who are all “fit and proper,” as he has done on this occasion, thus ruling out as an option unilateral appointment of someone from outside the list.

Notwithstanding the oftentimes acrimonious cut and thrust of the “hammering out” process, both President Granger and Opposition Leader Jagdeo have emerged winners. They have had a collective baptism in good faith and consensus politics.

This was the political will and patriotic leadership that I have shared when the legendary Cheddi Jagan moved away from a campaign of civil disobedience after the controversial 1973 elections to embrace “critical support” for the Burnham-led government in the face of a threat to our sovereignty. The PPP had branded the said government “neo-fascist,” and had launched a campaign of non-cooperation that was spliced with talks of utilising “all means” available for removal of the said government.

I was among those who had initially advocated the “all means possible” line, but radically changed my position to firmly embrace “critical support” on the basis that the dialectics favoured support for Guyana’s national defence and progressive foreign policy. Many of us had also felt that the time was ripe for rapprochement between the two major political parties and their leaders, Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan.

Today, we hear similar mis-characterisation of the populist-nationalist APNU+AFC Coalition as being “illegal,” with exhortations from an extremist wing of the party for a campaign of resistance. These elements would hope that the sporadic protests would transition to concrete forms of extra-parliamentary struggles. The characterisation of “illegal” would dictate the means by which those elements contemplate the destabilisation of the government, as they sought to do recently in Trinidad by attempting to scare away investors. However, as someone who has been there, this perceived strategy lacks imagination and, at the same time, it is dangerous.

I would not place it beyond this extremist phalanx to intensify pressure on GECOM, especially its new chairperson, even before she settles down. But, in my opinion, Justice Singh is not someone whom the opposition could arrogantly push around or walk over. They have only to look back at the post-1997 elections to be reminded that she is a formidable person.

For now, it would be all smiles before the opposition shifts the scene of engagement. This would see more attempts at derailing the current house-to-house registration of Guyanese to compile the data base from which a voters list would be extracted for upcoming elections. It is clear that the PPP has a vested interest in a list that locks out first-time, young voters and which is riddled with phantom names.

The opposition may not succeed in torpedoing this exercise, but may negotiate an exit strategy that limits the time for completion of a new voters list, so that elections could be held soonest after September 18. However reluctantly, iopwevedrHot may compromise with GECOM on a parliamentary motion to extend the time for holding these elections, given a reasonable but shortened time-frame for completion of the registration exercise and the refreshing of the voters lists during a claims and objections period.

Like a polluted river, the list has to be cleansed, sanitised and refreshed at its source, which is the data base. Unless this is done, the voters list that will flow from the data base, like tributaries to the regions and local constituencies, will be contaminated, muddy and putrid. Such a list can only deliver elections that are foul, not fair or free.

The appointment of Madam Chairperson Claudette Singh will give the electoral process a strong puff of fresh air and the tensions of the recent past will largely subside. The western democracies have all embraced our latest sortie into consensus politics and adherence to the commands of our judiciary, in this case the CCJ, signals a triumph of the Rule of Law in Guyana.


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