Amid fears raised by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) that the military would not act professionally if the opposition coalition is re-elected because its top brass includes ex-army officers, the Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Mark Phillips told soldiers not to campaign for any party and the army would be taking instructions only from President Donald Ramotar.
“Ex military officers also have the right to participate in the political activities of Guyana. We respect their service to Guyana. However, our current operational decision-making is not influenced by ex military officers. We take orders from the duly elected president of Guyana, our Commander in Chief, President Donald Ramotar,” he added.
Brigadier Phillips stressed that Guyana is still being governed by President Donald Ramotar who was duly elected to the Presidency and still enjoys the right to instruct the GDF. “He is still the Commander in Chief of the military, and in that regard, still has the right to give instructions to the military,” said the Chief-of-Staff.
The opposition’s presidential candidate is Retired Brigadier David Granger. Other former senior military police officers who are associated with or have endorsed the opposition coalition include recently retired Chief-of-Staff Rear Admiral Gary Best, former Chief-of-Staff Briagdier Edward Collins, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Harmon and Police Commissioner Winston Felix.
He warned soldiers against campaigning on any military base. While he assured them that they enjoy a constitutional right to vote for the party of their choice, he said no one should influence them on who to cast their ballots for.
“Ranks you have a civic responsibility as citizens to exercise your franchise during national elections by casting your vote. You are free to vote for whichever person or political party you choose, since it is your Constitutional right. However, do not allow anyone to make that decision for you. Your vote and who you cast it for is your personal and private choice!” he emphasised.
His comments come against the backdrop of recent tirades by senior leaders of the incumbent People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC), the most recent being by former President and Commander-in-Chief, Bharrat Jagdeo that the military and police would not act professionally if the coalition A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) is elected to office.
“When they link up with the military, as they have done, and come into your homes and start kicking the doors down and when they come after you, who is going to be there?” Jagdeo said.
“They are going to subvert the professionalism of the army and police because there will be no professional army or police. The entire executive is dominated by senior ex-policemen and ex-soldiers there can be no professionalism as was done in the past. So there are lots of things we have to be fearful about and lots of things we have to do in the future. I urge you when you go home think on these things,” said Jagdeo who ruled Guyana from 1999 to 2011.
But the Chief-of-Staff was quoted in a GDF statement as saying what has been peddled nationally, the army is a professional organisation and remains the stable band in the society. “Service to the nation remains our motto,” he added.
The Chief of Staff explained that there will be a large number of representatives from several countries and International bodies in Guyana during the elections period, serving as Observers, and repeated his concern that the highest level of professionalism must be displayed at all times. “You are to avoid any type of confrontational situations regarding political matters, and, if approached by political representatives on matters regarding the GDF, you must refer those persons to me.”
Military personnel and other members of the Joint Services will cast their ballots on Saturday, May 2. Military personnel will be confined from May 6, in preparation for deployment in support of the Guyana Police Force as becomes necessary. It is traditional for the military to vote several days ahead of the general public so that troops can be available for service to the nation as need be, during, and even after the period of National Elections are over.