What do ris­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sions mean?

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

Po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in Guyana took a turn for the worse over the past two weeks. This has re­sulted from the ap­point­ment by Pres­i­dent Granger of former Jus­tice James Pat­ter­son as Chair­man of the Elec­tions Com­mis­sion. Claim­ing that the third set of names con­tained no one who was fit and proper as re­quired by the Con­sti­tu­tion, the Pres­i­dent, re­ject­ing the names, uti­lized the con­sti­tu­tional pro­viso that en­abled him to ap­point a judge or former judge or a per­son qual­i­fied to be a judge.

Mr. James Pat­ter­son may not have been the Pres­i­dent’s first choice. The ap­pear­ance of Ma­jor Gen­eral (ret’d) Joe Singh’s name among the fi­nal six gave some hope that the mat­ter would be re­solved with­out re­sort to the pro­viso. Those who know the re­tired Ma­jor-Gen­eral sug­gest that he would not have al­lowed his name to go for­ward if there was any pos­si­bil­ity that it would be re­jected as not fit and proper. His sud­den resignation from all gov­ern­ment posts sug­gest that an un­der­tak­ing, which may have been given to him, had been vi­o­lated.

With Guyana’s charged po­lit­i­cal and elec­toral his­tory, un­der­lined by the strug­gle for eth­nic dom­i­na­tion and the re­sult­ing eth­nic in­se­cu­ri­ties, ag­gra­vated by an in­ad­e­quate po­lit­i­cal and gov­ern­men­tal struc­ture, the Op­po­si­tion’s re­ac­tion of non-co­op­er­a­tion to the Pres­i­dent’s uni­lat­eral ap­point­ment, is not sur­pris­ing. It is not known ex­actly how far the pol­icy of ‘non-co­op­er­a­tion’ will extend. From the Op­po­si­tion’s gen­eral re­ac­tion, it could well be that con­sid­er­a­tions of non-co­op­er­a­tion will apply se­lec­tively.

The most re­cent ex­am­ple - un­par­lia­men­tary be­hav­iour by the Op­po­si­tion in the Na­tional As­sem­bly dur­ing the Pres­i­dent’s ad­dress - has its roots in an un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive Na­tional As­sem­bly be­tween 1968 and 1985 to­gether with the na­ture of the PNC’s non-co­op­er­a­tive con­duct ex­tended to­wards the Na­tional As­sem­bly be­tween 1992 and 2015. What­ever may be said about the PPP’s con­duct, it is strongly sup­ported by its sup­port­ers, just as the PNC’s con­duct was jus­ti­fied by its sup­port­ers. The only peo­ple of­fended by these out­bursts are po­lit­i­cal pun­dits and sup­port­ers of the other side. Be­cause the (mis)con­duct en­hances the party’s fight­ing spirit among its sup­port­ers, just as it did when the PNC was in Op­po­si­tion, it will con­tinue with the PPP.

Two of the big­gest is­sues fac­ing Guyana in the im­me­di­ate pe­riod, which could be neg­a­tively af­fected by ‘non-co­op­er­a­tion,’ are the man­age­ment of our oil re­sources and con­sti­tu­tional re­form. In re­la­tion to oil, the Petroleum Com­mis­sion Bill has been pub­lished and is likely to be de­bated in the Na­tional As­sem­bly in the near fu­ture. This Bill is of tremen­dous im­por­tance and can be much im­proved in de­bate and dis­cus­sion. A bill to cre­ate and man­age a sov­er­eign wealth fund is un­der prepa­ra­tion. This also will re­quire ex­ten­sive ex­am­i­na­tion, dis­cus­sion and de­bate. Since oil will be­come Guyana’s largest in­come earner for the fore­see­able fu­ture and will shape the fu­ture of Guyana and all Guyanese, it is vi­tally nec­es­sary that the Op­po­si­tion is fully en­gaged in fash­ion­ing oil leg­is­la­tion which is in­tended to pro­tect the peo­ple of Guyana. The PPP should not extend ‘non-co­op­er­a­tion’ to these Bills.

With ‘non-co­op­er­a­tion’ by the Op­po­si­tion, con­sti­tu­tional re­form in terms of the APNU+AFC man­i­festo (sep­a­rate pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, the can­di­date ob­tain­ing the sec­ond high­est votes be­com­ing the prime min­is­ter and ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party ob­tain­ing more than 15 per­cent of the votes be­ing qual­i­fied to have rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the gov­ern­ment) has be­come doubt­ful. The Op­po­si­tion is await­ing an in­vi­ta­tion from the Pres­i­dent. The gov­ern­men­tal process ap­pears to be stalled. And with Pres­i­dent Granger’s lat­est state­ment to the Na­tional As­sem­bly on Thurs­day last, the prospect now looks re­mote. Pres­i­dent Granger said: “A multi-party coali­tion as­sumed of­fice and ush­ered in an op­por­tu­nity for con­sen­sus-based pol­i­tics. This form of gov­ern­ment wrested the na­tion from the vice of di­vi­sive and de­struc­tive win­ner-takes-all pol­i­tics and laid the ba­sis for a sys­tem of in­clu­sion­ary democ­racy – the form of gov­er­nance pre­scribed by the Con­sti­tu­tion, at Ar­ti­cle 13. That is the form that seeks co­op­er­a­tion for the ‘com­mon good’ rather than one that

Wfos­ters con­fronta­tion and chaos.”

“Win­ner-does-not-take-all-pol­i­tics” was a pol­icy first ac­cepted by the PPP as a re­ac­tion to the PNC’s un­law­ful ac­qui­si­tion and re­ten­tion of po­lit­i­cal power from 1968 on­wards. The ob­jec­tive was for the two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties to share po­lit­i­cal power and bring an end to eth­nic dom­i­na­tion through po­lit­i­cal power. The PNC’s ‘shared gov­er­nance’ pro­pos­als, which came later, had the same ob­jec­tive. These two poli­cies are re­flected in the APNU+AFC man­i­festo prom­ises on con­sti­tu­tional re­form, out­lined above. But for Pres­i­dent Granger to now bap­tise the APNU+AFC coali­tion as an ex­pres­sion of “win­ner-does-not-take-all-pol­i­tics,” thereby dis­tort­ing the mean­ing of “win­ner-does-not-take-all,” is as wrong as the PPP’s dis­tor­tion of the PPP/Civic in the same way. “Win­ner-does-not-take-all” pre-sup­poses a coali­tion be­tween the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties. If it doesn’t bring this about, it is not “win­ner-does-not-take-all.” It is merely a coali­tion of con­ve­nience, whether PPP/Civic or APNU+AFC. ith both po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­liev­ing that they will win the 2020 elec­tions, the oil bo­nanza for their elites and eth­nic dom­i­na­tion rather than con­sti­tu­tional re­form would now ap­pear to be far more at­trac­tive propo­si­tions to each. There is the dan­ger, un­less pub­lic pres­sure con­tin­ues to be brought on APNU+AFC to up­hold its man­i­festo prom­ise, that the is­sue of na­tional (po­lit­i­cal) unity will be post­poned to the third gen­er­a­tion of Guyanese af­ter 1950.

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