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OPINION: The arrogance and hubris of Bharrat Jagdeo are not working for the PPP

By James McAllister

Bharrat Jagdeo’s failure to be strategic has hurt the PPP. He placed the entirety of his political fortune into a process over which he had no control and he lost. The Appeal Court has ruled.
After the No-Confidence Motion (NCM), Jagdeo had hoped pressure from his cohorts in the Private Sector Commission (PSC), and at the Stabroek News would have forced the government to resign. If this had happened, Jagdeo would have nullified a significant amount of the incumbency advantage the government enjoys. In addition, he would have forced election within a period when the government was still absorbing the powerful message its supporters sent during the Local Government Elections (LGE). There would have been no time for adjustment or correction.

However, once there was the combination of the government’s move to the court, and the Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) decision to inform the President that elections were not possible before house-to-house registration, he should have adjusted his strategy. Once the issue moved to the courts, impartial observers accepted that the Government was entitled to due process. After all, this was not a case where the PPP won an election and the government was refusing to demit office. This was the case where the dubious vote of a government MP was procured under questionable circumstances.

For a proper perspective, think of a man, David, who migrated to the UK, and out of the kindness of his heart allowed his cousin, Charan, to live in his house rent-free. After the prescribed number of years, Charan moved to the courts claiming prescriptive rights and asked that ownership of the house be transferred to him. Charan was belligerent as he proclaimed his right to the property under the law. Charan’s family and friends were loud in support; the law is the law, they screamed. When David moves to the courts to preserve his rights to his property, Charan and his friends will be unable to contain their disgust. It is improper for David to prevent Charan from taking possession, dismantling the house, and selling the material while the matter is moving through the court. However, impartial observers, looking at this legally-sanctioned injustice, will say, “let’s await the determination of the court, and in the meanwhile David keeps his house.”

If Jagdeo was listening he would have received this message. The new American Ambassador spoke about allowing the constitutional judicial process to work. The British High Commissioner urged a return to Parliament to extend the time for elections. The Carter Center acknowledged that the judicial process had to be exhausted when it observed that if the CCJ rules in the government’s favor there will be no need for elections.

It was at this point Jagdeo should have changed strategy and floated the grand compromise, as Ralph Ramkarran is now trying to do. He could have proposed parliamentary action to mandate elections by, say, January/February 2020, regardless of the outcome of the court action, with certain mutually-agreeable limitations on government. Impartial observers may have found this attractive since it would have ensured no losers, while at the same time avoiding the political tension that could have been generated, between the Court of Appeal’s ruling and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling, if the government lost at the Court of Appeals.

This would not have been a perfect world for Jagdeo, but he would have been guaranteed nine months shaved off of the government’s term. He could have proclaimed victory and used this, and other concessions, as the basis to keep his base mobilized. Yes, he would not have been able to stop house-to-house registration. Surely, he could not stop all contracts; the government would never agree to that; no responsible government would have. However, he could have asked for certain things to be taken to Parliament and later claim some of the credit during the elections campaign.

Now that the Appeal Court has ruled against him, it is too late for this course of action. He has lost all of his leverage. The government is fully restored and will make all arrangements in the event the CCJ’s ruling necessitates elections. All contracts will be in place to ensure services to the people continue uninterrupted in the period before elections.

At this point, no matter what happens at the CCJ, Jagdeo has lost. He had hoped to force quick elections with the bloated list that is advantageous to the PPP. He wanted limited government in the run-up to the elections, so he could score political points about the pain and suffering of the people because the government would have been unable to effectively deliver services. However, he failed because of arrogance and hubris, and this is not the first time. The GECOM Chairman imbroglio was the last time.

Now he has announced he will boycott Parliament. This will be another lesson for him. Just wait for a couple of months.