Political analyst, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran and Political Scientist, David Hinds Friday expressed disappointment in President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Hinds lamented that Granger’s move does not send the right signal to Guyanese about “holding the country together” and consensus building on key subjects like the oil industry and constitutional reform, among other important national issues. “If they couldn’t arrive at consensus here, I think the future looks bleak as far as cohesive national approach to the governance of the country is concerned,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.
Though the President said the Constitution does not provide for any other mechanism such as a high-level bipartisan group, Hinds said the Constitution does not prohibit consensus.
Hinds also criticized Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo for goading the President into rejecting the three lists of 18 nominees by submitting names of persons who Granger had no confidence in. “In the three lists that he gave them, he never gave them an African Guyanese who they could have confidence in and I think that is critical from my reading of the situation. There were people on that list who could have served as GECOM Chair but it was clear that the government wanted somebody that they could have confidence in and Jagdeo was not going to give them that person,” Hinds, an executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) which is aa coalition partner, told Demerara Waves Online News.
The Political Scientist said at the end of the day, race and confidence were critical factors in selecting Justice James Patterson as the new Chairman. Professor Hinds noted that most of the GECOM Chairmen selected from the lists submitted by then People’s National Congress leaders and Opposition Leaders were Indo-Guyanese- Doodnauth Singh, Retired Major General Joseph Singh and Veterinary doctor, Steve Surujbally.
He further reasoned that Jagdeo was not interested in consensus building, and that the President blundered by appointing a GECOM Chairman of his own choice and not revealing the Opposition Leader’s motive. “I think the President and the government should have exposed him rather than allow him to get off and to now say that ‘it is you, Mr President, that it is you, the government, that is not interested in consensus and so I think the PPP gets a pass here when they are equally culpable, when they are equally guilty of not striving for consensus,” he said.
“They are not going to say that and that is the problem with our politics. They are never going to say we had three Indian Guyanese, it is time now we have an African Guyanese and someone we have some confidence in and so instead of doing that, they hide behind that narrow reading of the Constitution about retired judge and judge-like person and fit and proper,” he said.
While Justice Patterson’s political views have not been publicly expressed, Hinds contended that in the world of real politics, the President would undoubtedly need someone in whom he has confidence and would most likely favour the APNU+AFC Coalition if there is need for a casting vote on a crucial issue.
“You are appointing someone who may be partial to the government in power but one who is not a party person,” he said, adding that it was difficult to find a citizen who does not prefer a political party. “At the end of the day, when you are faced with that decision of making a choice, you will have to make a judgment – whether you are choosing someone who is going to act against your interests and I think although one would hope that the situation would have been different, it is not unreasonable to expect the President- whether it is the PPP President or the PNC President or the President of the Coalition government to try to get someone who they feel will not act against their interest,” he said.
Hinds said he does not have any problems with Justice Patterson, including his age of 84 years, because he does not have any demonstrated history of “partisan partiality”.
On the other hand, former House Speaker Ramkarran said he was disappointed that the President did not pick
former GECOM Chairman, Major General Singh or prominent Attorney-at-Law, Teni Housty. “In both of these cases, whatever these persons’ personal political views are-nobody knows their personal political views-these are fellows who do not engage in political talk though they are both very friendly and they are not people who one generally considers would be swayed by political opinion so I thought- and many people- the President would have seen it fit to choose somebody from this list,” Ramkarran told Demerara Waves Online News.
Ramkarran and Hinds said it was worrisome that Granger was the first President who has abandoned selecting someone from the list submitted by the Opposition Leader in keeping with Guyana’s Constitution, a situation the political commentators said was undesirable because of the track record of Granger’s People’s National Congress Reform in rigging elections. “Departing from that list raises concerns, and a lot of other people’s voices, having regard to the electoral history of the PNC. People are now becoming afraid,” he said.
“They are not going to lose votes because of that but it will tarnish their image. Now, remember the government is dominated by the PNC and whether we like it or not, the PNC has the tag of being a party with authoritarian instincts and if you are talking about democratic governance and you are talking about the image , you don not want to go down that road; you want to avoid any semblance of authoritarianism and, therefore, in that regard it was not a wise decision to go unilaterally; you should tried very hard to find other ways of arriving at a consensus,” he said. He said Granger’s decision would tarnish the government that is already viewed as high-handed.
Hinds said he was not convinced that all options were not explored by Jagdeo and Granger to reach consensus. Instead, he reasoned that the two engaged in a ‘cat and mouse game’ in which the President had always had his eyes set on picking someone in whom has confidence because the Chairman could decide the outcome of elections with his casting vote.
Based on reactions he is getting from persons of various backgrounds, Ramkarran said the President missed a great opportunity to break with the past image of fraudulent elections. “They are now concerned that the system has been broken and it is the PNC which has a bad electoral past and it is the PNC which has the opportunity to choose has broken with the system and people are afraid because of that,” said.
Touching on Jagdeo’s announcement that the People’s Progressive Party would not be cooperating with the government, the veteran politician said that is unlikely to affect the functioning of the government. However, it is geared at keeping PPP supporters mobilised and vigilant. “Based on past history, non-cooperation is not going to affect the government in any way but it might elevate the mood of the supporters of the PPP- keep them vigilant about the electoral and other processes that are going,” he said.
If the People’s Progressive Party mounts a High Court challenge against Granger’s appointment of Justice Patterson and loses, he is hopeful that free and fair elections would be held.
The Private Sector Commission earlier Friday predicted that Guyana was now on the road to economic and political instability, with the one-sided decision of appointing a GECOM Chairman.
While the Alliance For Change (AFC) made it clear that it had no role to play in selecting the GECOM Chairman, that party at the same time endorsed President Granger’s appointment of Patterson to avert a constitutional crisis.
The AFC has also vowed to be vigilant against electoral fraud and protect the democracy. Among its plans now is to push for wider consultation about the appointment of a GECOM Chairman to be included in Guyana’s constitution.