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Jagdeo’s overture to Granger a “starting point” for consensual GECOM Chairman – WPA

Chairwoman of the WPA, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley (left) and other party executive members Dr. David Hinds and Tacuma Ogunseye.

The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) on Saturday welcomed Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo’s willingness to allow President David Granger to float names for the possible appointment of a new chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), but cautioned against whittling away Jagdeo’s constitutional role.

“We think that’s a starting point and the Opposition Leader should be commended for taking that position, but we feel that it should go just beyond an informal consultation. We feel that the consultation should be formal so that’s where we disagree with the Opposition Leader,” Hinds told Demerara Waves Online News.

The Constitution provides for the Opposition Leader to submit six names that are not unacceptable to the President who will then pick one to be the Chairman of the country’s elections management authority, but WPA Executive Member David Hinds reasoned that the recent Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) judgement seeks to promote consensus between Guyana’s two top political leaders in appointing a GECOM Chairman.

Hinds does not believe that the President should actually submit three names, but that he and the Opposition Leader should have formal talks on the suitability of the nominees in coming up with a sextet.

Granger has already told Jagdeo that government’s interpretation of the CCJ’s judgement is that the President should also be allowed to submit nominees. While Jagdeo insisted on respecting the constitution, he said he was not opposed to the President informally suggesting names as part of the process of reaching consensus.

The WPA official agreed that “structured consultation” between Jagdeo and Granger could lead to the President formally submitting nominees, but that’s the best way out of moving away from the strict provisions of the constitution in a bid to find consensus in keeping with the Carter Centre formulae for appointing a GECOM Chairman.

“We should be careful that this consultative process that we are suggesting does not take away the constitutional power of the Opposition Leader. At the end of the day, the Opposition Leader should feel confident that his constitutional power is not being taken away,” he said.

The WPA said there must be a “middle ground” consensus by the President and the Opposition Leader to arrive at six nominees. He interpreted the CCJ’s decision that the President should have an input in “putting the list together” to eliminate overt party affinity. The intensity of the talks, Hinds said, would depend on Granger and Jagdeo.

The WPA earlier this week said the CCJ appeared wary of the judiciary instructing the executive in how to conduct its business. “Courts generally have been very reluctant to issue such orders given the risk of breaching the wall that separates the branches of government as part of the doctrine of separation of power,” said the party which is a member of the governing coalition. Its parliamentary representative is Minister of the Public Service, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley.

The party said the CCJ’s decision that found that President Granger’s unilateral appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as the GECOM Chairman despite Jagdeo’s submission of 18 names amounted to a tweaking of the method by which the President and the Opposition Leader would appoint the head of the seven-member elections management authority.

“Our understanding is that the CCJ has proposed a modification of the current formulae by requiring the two leaders to jointly participate in the compilation of a list of six nominees from which the president would eventually choose the chairperson in keeping with his constitutional mandate. WPA views this as a more acceptable approach since it greatly reduces, if not eliminate, the scope for unilateralism by both the president and the opposition leader,” the party said.

But, the success of this approach assumes good faith on the part of the leaders. It requires them to find ways to subordinate their hardcore partisan interests to the greater good of the country. This is ultimately the true test of statesmanship. WPA, therefore, again urges the leaders to rise to the occasion—there must be some degree of give-and-take. Failure to arrive at a consensus could further hold up the preparations for elections, heighten existing tensions or force the court to intervene in a manner that could be interpreted as judicial overreach.

“For the WPA, another key to the workability of the formulae is avoidance of the temptation to “pack” the list with candidates that are overtly aligned to the political parties or are openly hostile to them. This would be a non-starter. Although WPA prefers the leaders to jointly agree to all six candidates, it would have no objection to them each nominating three,” the party added.

On Jagdeo’s suggestion that non-Guyanese Commonwealth citizens should be considered for the position of GECOM Chairman, the WPA said that is an attractive proposal of last resort. “We should exhaust all options at home before looking abroad. If the suggestion is embraced as a first resort, it would send the wrong message to Guyanese about our leaders’ confidence in their ability to be impartial and just. Ultimately, it is the will of the political leaders that is being tested,” the WPA said.

Patterson stepped down after the CCJ ruled that his appointment was flawed and unconstitutional. The opposition People’s Progressive Party has made it clear that it had no faith in Patterson more so since he had voted with the three pro-coalition election commissioners for house-to-house registration to be conducted before general elections are held.

Granger, maintaining that the voters’ list is bloated and defective, wants registration before elections.