Ma­jor­ity vote

Stabroek News Sunday - - LETTERS -

The course of chang­ing gov­ern­ment in Guyana never did run smooth, and true to form we now find our­selves in the mid­dle of an­other po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion mud­dle, this time of a pos­si­ble le­gal va­ri­ety. Fol­low­ing the 2015 elec­tion the PPP ac­cused the coali­tion gov­ern­ment of hav­ing rigged the re­sult, an ac­cu­sa­tion they re­peated for many months af­ter­wards, in de­fi­ance of the ev­i­dence that the poll had been free and fair, and had been recog­nised as such by all the elec­tion ob­servers. This al­lowed them to bang the old alarmist drum that the PNC in its new APNU garb in­tended to re­turn to its old rig­ging habits when the next elec­tion rolled around.

Well the next elec­tion should be rolling around fol­low­ing the gov­ern­ment’s loss of the no-con­fi­dence vote on De­cem­ber 21, al­though a note of un­cer­tainty has now crept in. Af­ter the vote the Prime Min­is­ter and sub­se­quently the Pres­i­dent in­formed the Guyanese elec­torate that the con­sti­tu­tion would be fol­lowed, and that a na­tional elec­tion would be held within the re­quired 90 days. All ra­tio­nal el­e­ments in the na­tion then breathed a sigh of re­lief; the last thing any­one wants at this stage is tur­moil in any area of gov­ern­ment, let alone out­side it.

Of course, as ex­pected, APNU+AFC quickly homed in on the de­fec­tor in their ranks, Mr Char­ran­das Per­saud, but his act per se, shorn of its hu­man as­so­ci­a­tions, is le­git­i­mate un­der the con­sti­tu­tion. How the moral­ity of his de­ci­sion is viewed, would de­pend on whether Mr Per­saud over sev­eral years, has been per­ceived to be a per­son of in­tegrity. If he has, then the as­sump­tion would have to be that his choice was made for com­pletely eth­i­cal rea­sons. If he has not, then sus­pi­cion might at­tach to him – al­though that hav­ing been said, crit­ics would never know whether even if he nor­mally were not re­garded as un­usu­ally prin­ci­pled, his mo­tives in this par­tic­u­lar in­stance were not above board and in ad­di­tion com­pletely un­tainted.

El­e­ments in the rul­ing coali­tion of course, have al­leged his ac­tion was in fact tainted by cor­rup­tion, some­thing for which they have ad­duced no ev­i­dence and which Mr Bhar­rat Jagdeo has de­nied. As such, there­fore, the va­lid­ity of Mr Per­saud’s vote, as stated above, stands quite in­de­pen­dent of his char­ac­ter and his mo­tives.

If the cit­i­zens of this land breathed a sigh of re­lief af­ter they heard Pres­i­dent Granger’s state­ment re­ferred to above, it turned out that they were pre­ma­ture. On Christ­mas Eve, no less, the Cabi­net es­tab­lished a Spe­cial Le­gal Sub­Com­mit­tee to re­view the le­gal im­pli­ca­tions of the vote. The Chair­man of this com­mit­tee is At­tor­ney Gen­eral Basil Wil­liams, and we re­ported that the gov­ern­ment had de­cided that it would for­mally write Speaker of the Na­tional Assem­bly Bar­ton Scot­land about the vote, and if the re­sponse to that was un­favourable, it would be pre­pared to go to court if nec­es­sary.

What the mem­bers ap­pear to have taken on board is an ar­gu­ment first pre­ferred by At­tor­ney Nigel Hughes, who ar­gued that 33 votes do not con­sti­tute a ma­jor­ity in the 65-mem­ber Par­lia­ment. “Half of the Na­tional Assem­bly is 33 mem­bers not 32,” we quoted him as post­ing on Mon­day, be­cause math­e­mat­i­cally one half of the House is 32.5 mem­bers. There is no such thing as half a mem­ber, he main­tained, and there­fore you have to round up to 33, mean­ing that a ma­jor­ity would have to be 34. He went on to write in an­other post: “[Y]ou have to round up to iden­tify half of the house … The house voted 33:32. 33 is a round­ing down of what con­sti­tutes half of the house. The mo­tion con­se­quently was not car­ried.”

A release from the Depart­ment of Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion said that the coali­tion gov­ern­ment as­sured its sup­port­ers and the pub­lic that it would pur­sue all “avail­able op­tions and act in the best in­ter­est of all Guyanese”. Given the course that the gov­ern­ment has seem­ingly opted to take, that, it must be said, is a mat­ter very much for ques­tion, de­spite the voices lend­ing their clam­orous sup­port. For any po­lit­i­cally semi-con­scious mem­ber of the vot­ing pub­lic, how­ever, the ‘34’ ar­gu­ment is specious at best, and de­fies com­mon sense.

For­tu­nately, there are com­men­ta­tors who have dis­missed the ‘34’ ar­gu­ment, prom­i­nent among whom is Mr Ralph Ramkar­ran. He told Stabroek News that if one ap­plies the ‘lit­eral’ rule of in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which is one of the rules recog­nised in law, the con­clu­sion would be that a ma­jor­ity means at least one more. He ques­tioned too whether Par­lia­ment would have likely con­sid­ered that there can­not be half a per­son and as such 33 would be the half of 65. “Not at all. Par­lia­ment would have most likely con­sid­ered that 33 was the ma­jor­ity where one party got one seat more,” we quoted him as say­ing.

Fur­ther­more, the at­tor­ney ad­verted to the fact that since 2011, 33 was con­sid­ered a ma­jor­ity. If the ‘34’ ar­gu­ment ap­plied, there­fore, be­tween then and 2015, all the laws op­posed would be il­le­gal, and since 2015 all the laws passed would be il­le­gal. “This false ar­gu­ment can­not stand scru­tiny,” he said.

This point was also made by Op­po­si­tion MP Anil Nand­lall who said that 33 votes have al­ways been suf­fi­cient to carry a mo­tion or a bill for­ward for pas­sage in the Na­tional Assem­bly. We re­ported him as say­ing that it was for this rea­son that APNU and the AFC, with their one-seat ma­jor­ity of 33 were

able to cut the an­nual bud­gets in the tenth Par­lia­ment, and sim­i­larly they were able to vote down the leg­isla­tive changes re­quired for the AML/CFT laws and the Amaila Falls Project, among oth­ers. “More im­por­tantly,” he ob­served, if thirty-three (33), is not a ma­jor­ity in a sixty-five (65) mem­ber Na­tional Assem­bly then APNU+AFC could not have law­fully formed the gov­ern­ment af­ter the 2015 elec­tions.”

For its part the Bar Coun­cil of the Guyana Bar As­so­ci­a­tion noted var­i­ous at­tempts to ar­gue that the [no con­fi­dence] mo­tion was not validly passed in the Na­tional Assem­bly, and went on to make clear its po­si­tion: “The Bar Coun­cil re­jects as er­ro­neous such con­tentions that the mo­tion was not prop­erly passed or that the vote is, for any rea­son, in­valid.

“The Bar Coun­cil urges that the re­sults and con­se­quences of the mo­tion be ac­cepted and that ur­gent prepa­ra­tions for elec­tions by the Elec­tions Com­mis­sion be started.” There is no hes­i­ta­tion or am­bi­gu­ity there.

As far as APNU+AFC is con­cerned – al­though one imag­ines this is be­ing driven pri­mar­ily by APNU – they have noth­ing to gain and a great deal to lose by grasp­ing at le­gal strat­a­gems which would de­lay the elec­tion. Even if for the sake of ar­gu­ment they won a case in the courts, and the vote of no con­fi­dence were deemed in­valid, they would sim­ply en­trench their old rep­u­ta­tion of a lack of com­mit­ment to demo­cratic norms and a pre­pared­ness to hang onto power at all costs. It would sound a death knell for their longer-term fu­ture as a vi­able party in a lib­eral democ­racy, and en­dow them with an odi­ous in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion with all the con­se­quences which flow there­from.

If it is that they don’t ex­pect to win, and are only seek­ing to hold back the poll so the ben­e­fit of the bud­get mea­sures can be felt (or per­haps even give Pres­i­dent Granger more time to re­cover for an elec­toral cam­paign), it still will not af­ford them any ad­van­tage. They will con­tinue to suf­fer the op­pro­brium of not ac­cept­ing a vote which was con­sti­tu­tion­ally valid, with­out the ben­e­fit of a long enough time-frame to make the kind of eco­nomic im­pact they have so far not man­aged to have. What would save them and more es­pe­cially un­der­mine the tra­di­tional snip­ing of the op­po­si­tion about rig­ging, is sim­ply to ac­cept the re­sult of the vote of no con­fi­dence. They could then de­vote their en­er­gies wholly to their elec­toral cam­paign in­stead of try­ing to de­fend the in­de­fen­si­ble.

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