DECISIVE DECISION – President averts constitutional crisis
JUST a few days ago, Opposition Chief Whip Mrs. Gail Teixeira blasted American Ambassador Perry Holloway for saying that without a chairman, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was “not at crisis point yet.”
Reminiscent of the infamous and belligerent “feral blast” by a PPP Minister against former Ambassador Brent Hardt, in her presence, sight, hearing and possibly with concurrence, the PPP’s tzarina reminded Holloway that he was not Guyanese. That was a not-so-veiled description of the friendly American envoy as alien, a foreign meddler.
She did, however, see the failure to have a Chairman for GECOM as potentially problematic. It could cause a “flash-point” in the future since, without a Chairman, the work of the Elections Commission would be stalled. Such work includes a new round of voter registration and preparation of a preliminary voters list ahead of local government elections in 2018, and general elections in 2020.
There is no doubt therefore that a constitutional crisis was looming. In this case, the appointment of a Chairman of the Elections Commission was key in averting such a crisis which could derail elections schedules.
The appointment of a Chairman of the Elections Commission is a constitutional issue. The procedures that guide the appointment process, styled the “Carter formula,” include submission by the leader of the opposition of a list with persons who fit certain defined qualifications.
Under Article 161 of the Guyana Constitution, the Elections Commission comprises six members and a chairman. Three of the members are appointed by the President in his own deliberate judgment; and the other three, by the President on the advice of the leader of the opposition..
That Article was amended in 2000, under then President Jagdeo to give the leader of the opposition the responsibility to submit a list of six persons from among whom the President could appoint a chairman. The caveat is that the list has to be not unacceptable to the President.
In a case where the leader of the opposition failed to submit a list, as provided by the Constitution, the President would appoint as GECOM Chairman, a judge, a former judge or a person qualified to be a judge,. The President is not required to go beyond these qualifications, not even to explore finding someone who would otherwise qualify as a “fit and proper” person. The President is not required also, to consider or extract any names from the failed lists. When the selection process reaches this stage, names do not matter. What matters is the intervention of the President under the relevant constitutional provision, guided by the principle that the person is qualified and competent.
By appointing Mr. Justice James Patterson, a retired judge in both the Guyana and Caribbean jurisdictions, the President has acted within the Constitution. He has averted the “flash-point” to which Mrs. Teixeira alluded and possibly, also a constitutional crisis, the spectre of which Mr. Jagdeo had harboured in his political nightmares.
The simple truth is that Mr. Jagdeo was given a long rope to hang his expectations of an impending crisis. He thought that he could create this crisis by fixing the lists in such a way that would force the President to reject them, consecutively. His lists were unlike those submitted by Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Mr. Desmond Hoyte when they served respectively as leader of the opposition. Jagan and Hoyte had submitted clean lists. In comparison, Jagdeo’s lists looked like an “indecent proposal,” which is the title of a Robert Redford movie.
It is my view that the leader of the opposition had sought to limit the President’s choice when be planted in each of those lists several names of persons who could not reasonably be expected to act impartially.
Those included a former PPP elections candidate, backers, financiers, and a couple of persons who had a declared interest in Jagdeo running for a third term as president. The ordinary Guyanese would see through Jagdeo’s unimaginative stratagem as that of the proverbial smart fly. More cynically, they would conclude that Jagdeo had either deliberately and cunningly cooked up or “cocked” the lists, or both.
Granger couldn’t fall for that folly. He must have known that in an Elections Commission where the PPP and PNC each hold an even three members, the chairman has to be someone in whom he has full confidence to be impartial and non-partisan. The President knows that the chairman holds a casting vote that could decide the fate of elections.
For the opposition leader, this is classical Russian roulette – the final, last election that could restore his place in power, privilege and perks. As one writer described it, Mr. Jagdeo “salivates” over potential oil wealth. This would explain why Mr. Jagdeo acted in bad faith, and failed to deliver on his constitutional duty to submit a list as required by law.
POWER VERSUS PEOPLE
We all heard Mr. Jagdeo threatening non-cooperation and declaring that he is working to create a constitutional crisis in Guyana. Of course, if there is a constitutional crisis, the country would be in lock-down mode. This is reckless and exposes the vintage Jagdeo who sees power as being more important than people. This is the same Jagdeo, who climbed to power on the back of Mrs. Janet Jagan then discarded her as a “private citizen.”
Mr. Jagdeo is calling for a civil uprising which the racist falang of the PPP has been espousing on the ground of alleged marginalisation of Guyanese of Indian origin. This is an opportunity for him to mount this unruly horse of ethnic fear and to adopt as revolutionary, such slogans as non-cooperation and civil disobedience.
The PPP would be expected, again, to boycott Parliament. The RDC, towns and NDC which the PPP controls, would sabotage infrastructural and development programmes. They would deny essential services to their respective communities, to make the government look bad. This is literally playing with fire, and Jagdeo knows only too well what could be the outcome if this campaign reaches the sugar belt.
SINISTER AND TREACHEROUS
More sinister and treacherous is his unilateral announcement that the PPP would not cooperate with the work of the Borders Commission. This could only mean that the PPP would hold back support for efforts to defend Guyana’s territorial integrity against Venezuela, which has falsely claimed the entire Essequibo and all of our mineral and oil resources.
This would be the final act by which the PPP would be judged; but I will come back to this issue more fully in another article. For now, I urge all Guyanese to look at the broader picture of national unity, social cohesion and the prospects of Guyana blooming and booming again!