Opposition Leader eschews divisions, expects continued professionalism from GDF

Last Updated on Friday, 17 March 2023, 12:18 by Denis Chabrol

Mr. Aubrey Norton

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton on Thursday said the opposition coalition continued to maintain its national unity thrust and would expect professionalism from Guyana’s security forces, in the wake of controversial appeals to Afro-Guyanese sympathy from police and soldiers should there be mass protests against discrimination.

“The opposition APNU+AFC, including the People’s National Congress Reform, have always and will continue to promote national unity and will oppose anything that will undermine national unity including the divisive approach of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP),” he said.

Mr Norton, however, sought to distance himself from the tone of WPA Executive Member Tacuma Ogunseye’s expectation that the predominantly Afro-Guyanese police and soldiers would not turn their guns on Afro-Guyanese protesters. “The opposition believes that Mr Tacuma Ogunseye’s right to free speech must be respected even though we believe that his language could have been better chosen,” the Opposition Leader said. He did not believe that his position would send mixed messages to the opposition’s traditional support base.

The Joint Services has dismissed that ethnic appeal. The WPA has refused to retract its position and has dared government to lock up Mr Ogunseye or colleague Executive Member David Hinds for exciting racial hostility, sedition, treason or fomenting unrest.

For Mr Norton, he said he would judge the Guyana Defence Force based on its historical performance. “The army has not had a history of being involved in the politics of the society. I expect that the army will take a professional approach to this matter and it is my sincere hope that external forces, including political parties, including the President, they do not influence the direction of the Guyana Defence Force,” he said. At the same time, he said the average member of the GDF experiences racism and has to cope with the high cost of living but, as an institution, they would continue to act professionally.

Mr Norton, who is the first PNCR Leader to have spoken on a WPA platform, agreed with Mr Ogunseye’s description of the situation in Guyana concerning alleged discrimination against Afro0-Guyanese in the award of contracts, other inequities and misuse of the police force but “probably out of frustration he went a little too far.”

Instead of increasing repression, the Opposition Leader urged the largely Indo-Guyanese-backed People’s Progressive Party Civic administration to address the concerns raised by Mr Ogunseye.

Three elected Indo-Guyanese PNCR members have condemned opposition activist Rhonda Layne’s utterances about Indo-Guyanese, Another Indo-Guyanese member, Geeta Chandan-Edmond, criticised Mr Ogunseye and urged immediate talks aimed at forging unity.

Mr Norton accused the PPPC of creating the conditions for an “ethnic and political clash” to its benefit.