President David Granger in his recent address to the National Assembly, redirected the nation‘s attention to the mismanagement of the country by the PPP/C administration, pointing to the financial, economic and social problems his government inherited, as major reasons why the coalition government has been unable to deliver more benefits to the citizens of Guyana.
In his address, the Head of State made a deliberate and calculated attempt to push back the growing perception that the APNU+AFC government has failed to live up to its promise of a better life for all. So effective was the President, that opposition leader Mr Bharrat Jagdeo was forced to state that the address was more in keeping with a new government making its first presentation after coming to office. In conceding that the President’s address was appropriate in a given context, the opposition leader was unwittingly admitting that the message was damaging to the PPP/C at a time when that party’s propaganda against the government was beginning to resonate among sections of the masses.
The rage and anger displayed by the Opposition Leader in response to the President’s address, suggested that Mr Jagdeo felt that he and the PPP have lost political ground. The PPP propaganda operatives and activists have since been singing from their leader’s song book. They have also resorted to their old tactic, which over the decades, has proven to be effective ‒ that is to invoke the Burnham regime and the ‘negative effects’ on the nation of the PNCR’s 28 year rule. This approach is the hallmark of the PPP’s party propaganda whether it is in opposition or in government. For the PPP that approach is fair game. But when that party got a dose of its own medicine from President Granger, who invoked the negative effects on the nation as a result of the PPP/C’s 23 years in office, which only ended 16 months ago, Mr Jagdeo and the rest of the PPP leadership are now shouting foul.
Mr Jagdeo’s contention that President David Granger’s speech was a “desecration of the House” is not only ridiculous, it also does not concur with our parliamentary history. Frankly speaking, the President did not say anything that was not in keeping with Guyanese parliamentary culture. What seems to have caught the PPP/C off guard was their failure to correctly read the mood of the President and to anticipate his response to their forewarned boycott of the parliamentary sitting. Mr Jagdeo’s ‘desecration’ claim is a political reflex action to his and the PPP/C’s tactical miscalculation. The defence of Carvil Duncan given his legal troubles, which caused the President to ask for his resignation from the constitutional boards/agencies he sat on, cannot justify the party’s decision to boycott the President’s address to the National Assembly. The Opposition Leader and his party would have been on stronger grounds if they had walked out in response to the President’s remarks. It is one thing for the opposition to walk out on the President in defence of what they perceived as unjustified attacks on the party’s reputation, but to attempt to defend a comrade who is embroiled in charges of an alleged criminal nature is politically difficult to sell, and opens the party to criticisms of abusing parliamentary privilege.
I have been following closely the polemic between the government and the opposition since the APNU+AFC came to power, on the issues of national unity, and the need for both sides to seek areas of cooperation. It is to his credit that President Granger, during his parliamentary address to the National Assembly and the nation once again took the opportunity to clarify his position as it relates to these issues and the need for ongoing dialogue with the parliamentary opposition. Not surprisingly, the opposition leader responded in his predictable way. In the course of his response to the President’s renewed initiative Mr Jagdeo made it clear that the chances of Guyana being lifted out of the state of morass in which it finds itself, will not be realized in the foreseeable future.
The President’s calculated political action which one newspaper described as his extension of the “olive branch” to the opposition, caused me to ponder. Objectively, he is on the right track since constitutionally, as President of the country he has the responsibility to rise above partisan politics. However, I do believe that while he has the constitutional responsibility as President and he is obliged to act within the parameters of those responsibilities, I will submit here that Mr Granger also has the political duty to neutralize a hostile opposition. It could be argued that, after having dealt the opposition a serious blow by reminding the nation of the PPP/C’s destruction of the country and of the birth of the criminal state under their watch, the President may have undone some of his excellent work by offering the “olive branch” to Mr Jagdeo. Given the fact that since becoming head of state he has made this offer to Jagdeo on many occasions, and this, in spite of the fact that Mr Jagdeo’s response has always been to be dismissive of Mr Granger’s initiatives, I am not sure that given the reasons Mr Jagdeo had advanced for the PPP’s boycott of the President’s address to the National Assembly and the nation that Mr Granger needed to go down that road. By doing so, he provided Mr Jagdeo with an opportunity to extricate himself from the embarrassing position he had created for himself. The Opposition Leader, shrewd politician that he is, seized the opportunity with both hands by saying the President can’t ‘cuss’ us out and at the same time ask for his and his party’s cooperation.
Having said the above I am aware that the President has a difficult job of navigating his politics in a nonpartisan way, but he must be attuned to the fact that in the context of relentless and hostile opposition which is using its clout to save some of those associated with it from prosecution for wrongdoing, very little room is left for normal politics more so patriotism. The political challenge in Guyana, therefore, is how to reconcile politically and at the same time bring to justice wrongdoers. The PPP/C decision to boycott the President’s speech in defence of Carvil Duncan highlights this reality.