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Govt squandered opportunity to constructively respond to US- Ramkarran

Ralph Ramkarran

Former Executive Member of the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Ralph Ramkarran believes that the President Ramotar administration has missed a good opportunity to respond specfically to the United States’ (US) calls and criticisms for not holding local government elections.

Less than one week before American Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hatrdt wrapped up his three-year tour of duty here, he pointed to glaring inconsistencies and excuses that President Donald Ramotar, the PPP and its General Secretary, Clement Rohee have offered for not holding the polls last held in 1994.

Rather than responding Hardt, the administration delegated Acting Foreign Minister, Priya Manickchand to go to Hardt’s residence where he was hosting a US Independence Day reception and delivered a stinging undiplomatic review of the Ambassador’s tenure in Guyana. Ramkarran believes that government erred by not seizing the moment to explain its position. “By relying on ‘feral’ responses by an invited ‘warrior’ to the Ambassador’s home, the President lost the opportunity of defending his position, which he is quite capable of doing. While the Ambassador’s public remarks about the President’s inconsistencies may not be usual, public figures are expected to defend themselves, which is what the Ambassador no doubt expected,” said Ramkarran in his weekly column on Conversation Tree.(www.conversationtree.gy).

He believed that if  PPP Founder Leader and President,  Cheddi Jagan would have used the bilateral route of speaking with the American envoy. I try to think of what Cheddi Jagan would have done. Never, ever, taking criticism personally, being offended by it or being confrontational or personal, he would have first engaged the Ambassador by telephone as he often did. Then, if necessary, he would have made a public response to the issue,” he said.

With the need for the Guyana government to call local government elections part of the US’ foreign policy posture towards Guyana, the former PPP Executive Committee member does not believe that the calls would go away easily.

Ramkarran also observed that it was  who had spearheaded a lobby to the US for Guyana to hold free and fair elections. “Guyana has already accepted the precedent for intervention in its internal affairs in relation to elections,” he said. He recalled that was in 1989 that Jagan had written to US President, George W. Bush urging his support for free and fair elections. Ramkarran recalled that apart from national elections, the PPP fought for local government elections since 1970 when they were last held under the PNC. “If the US is inconsistent, what about Guyana?,” Ramkarran queried.

The former House Speaker remembered President Bush, as if in response but without saying so, expressing the hope to President Hoyte on Republic Day, February 23, 1990, that the elections would be free and fair. He said that message was repeated by the State Department and six Senators later wrote Secretary of State James Baker requesting that US aid be tied to free and fair elections.

According to Ramkarran, President Hoyte’s initial reaction to President Bush’s and the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s letter making the same call was similar to the reaction of the Guyana government today. According to him, Hoyte had stated that he had thrown Senator Kennedy’s letter in the garbage.

Amid an aggressive lobby by the opposition and civil society groups, former US President, Jimmy Carter led a delegation to Guyana. After meeting with Carter and top officials of his Carter Centre, President Hoyte addressed the nation and essentially gave into a number of key opposition demands including the counting of votes at the place of poll that he had only hours before deemed would have been a “logistical nightmare.”

Originally scheduled for 1990, the elections – widely regarded as the first free and fair poll in almost 30 years-were held in 1992. The PPP has ever since then remained in office, losing its parliamentary majority for the first time in the 2011 general and regional election.