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President agrees to meet Opposition Leader; Jagdeo says talks will be “one more good-faith” attempt

FLASHBACK: President David Granger greets Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on his arrival at State House for consultations on the appointment of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice.

President David Granger has agreed to meet with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday to discuss several issues he raised including setting an election date before the current voters’ list expires on April 30.

“The content of these letters has been conveyed to His Excellency the President who advises that he is prepared to meet with you on Wednesday March 6, 2019 at 11:00 hours at the Ministry of the Presidency and to discuss the issues raised in your aforementioned letters,” Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told Jagdeo in a letter dated March 5.

Jagdeo at 7:37 Tuesday night sought to explain his about-turn to meet with Granger unless an election date was proposed. “Nevertheless, having been approached by many Guyanese, civil society bodies and members of the diplomatic corps to make one last attempt to avert the constitutional crisis that the President, with a complicit GECOM, is leading our nation into, the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to make one more good-faith attempt in the interest of the nation, and, will attend the meeting.”

Indicating that he would be going into the talks, cautiously optimistic about its outcome, Jagdeo said Wednesday’s talks would be a last-ditch attempt to stave off a constitutional crisis if March 21 comes and he and the President do not reach an agreement on extending the life of the government beyond the 90 days after the no-confidence motion was passed last December. “Many people believe that nothing positive will come out of the meeting tomorrow given the track-record of duplicity of the Granger administration thus far. The Opposition Leader shares some of these misgivings,” a statement from Jagdeo’s office said.

He said Wednesday’s talks would be “a test of the integrity, credibility and sincerity of the President” and “he would be tested as to whether he can be trusted “as a man of his word” to put our nation, its future and its people first on a foundation of constitutional and parliamentary democracy. This will be a test as to whether the constitution or ‘power lust’ wins out.”

The Opposition Leader on Monday told Harmon that he would only meet with the President if he is prepared to discuss setting an elections date before the existing voters’ list expires next month-end.

“This is the last attempt by the Parliamentary Opposition to offer the government a way out of the constitutional crisis and to keep Guyana in the democratic fold of nations. If the meeting fails, the true nature of the government will be seen by all those who urged the Opposition Leader to meet,” the statement from Jagdeo’s office reads.

Already, two of the ruling APNU+AFC coalition-appointed elections commissioners of the seven-member Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) said that that elections management authority needs at least 126 days to prepare for the conduct of elections if there is an acceptable voters’ list. The governing coalition and its elections commissioners have been demanding house-to-house registration before the next elections because the existing list is padded with the names of deceased persons and emigrants as well as old addresses of persons living in Guyana.

On the other hand, Jagdeo’s People’s Progressive Party has been insisting that the current voters’ list could have been legally used to conduct the elections within the 90-day period and that GECOM and like-minded commissioners have conspired to delay the elections.

On February 25, the President had invited the Opposition Leader to discuss the National Assembly’s constitutional role in the present situation and GECOM’s readiness and requirement for funding to enable it to conduct General and Regional Elections. The President has since urged GECOM to begin preparations for holding elections this year.

Jagdeo, in response this past Monday said he also wants to discuss with the President his following demands:

    1.  No new contracts to be awarded by the State, including Regional Democratic Councils, and, State-owned corporations after March 21, 2019;
    2. No new agreements, loans, grants, land leases, or any other such agreements or contracts after March 21, 2019, that bind Government;
    3. No abuse of State resources for partisan activities/purposes, and
    4. Access to the State-owned media by all the contesting political parties

“I, therefore, am proposing that the meeting focus exclusively on the date for these elections,” Jagdeo stated in a written proposal to the President.

The Opposition Leader said only if the President agrees to his proposals, the PPP would lend its support to the two-thirds majority required to comply with Article 106 (7) for an extension beyond March 21. “Further, l believe that my proposal to hold general and regional elections before April 30, 2019 is reasonable and feasible with a claims and objections period, provided that GECOM acts in good-faith and in conformity with its mandate and the Constitution. This proposal will ensure that the Constitution remains intact and prevents our nation slipping into a constitutional crisis,” Jagdeo has said.

One of the three coalition-backed elections commissioners, Vincent Alexander hopes to shrink the period for conducting house-to-house registration from nine to six months.