Race, age, PNC rigged elections record, no internal consultation are major concerns in AFC executive about GECOM Chairman; Ramjattan unfazed about e-mail leaks by “rogue elements”
As more leaked email show major agreements in the Alliance For Change’s (AFC) executive over President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), party chairman Khemraj Ramjattan on Wednesday welcomed the departure of two Canada-based aggrieved executive members.
Former AFC General Secretary, David Patterson expressed concern that support for the unilateral appointment was a violation of his party’s principles and the fact that GECOM Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson is 84 years old.
Ramjattan labelled AFC-Canada’s Leader, Tameshwar Lilmohan and its General Secretary, Laurence O. Williams are “rogue elements” who are responsible for leaking the internal correspondence, Ramjattan because they disagree with President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of Patterson.
“I don’t understand if that is responsible membership of a political party by people who are supposed to be educated and qualified, but in any event that’s what it is. It’s a liberal democratic party and what can we do,” he said. Ramjattan ruled out Lilmohan and Williams facing disciplinary action, but he said their departure from the party is welcomed because their actions warrant expulsion.
“In any event, they have said that they have severed ties and in a sense if we had to take disciplinary action, it’s probably asking them to leave but they have left on their own volition,” he said.
The AFC Leader said he was not worried that the emergence of deep-seated internal differences over the GECOM Chairman’s appointment would affect his party’s image. “I think it’s going to give us a greater impact,” he said. “I do not see any damage flowing from a frank discussion with members that wanted to know our position. If leaders are not frank with their executives and our membership, we are not going to have a party,” Ramjattan said.
In the latest batch of email correspondence, former AFC General Secretary, David Patterson said his party’s decision to accept Granger’s unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chairman smacked of a lack of consultation and involvement. “Our leaders (both past and present), have recommended a decision without the benefit of the collective. Surely, you guys would have anticipated what the reaction of the members on this group would have been, if the President, as he has now done, heeded your advice and appointed a person outside of the submitted lists- you should have been aware that such a decision would would not sit well with some members (me in particular), yet it was given away,” said David Patterson.
Recalling that his party had opposed the selection of Dr. Barton Scotland as House Speaker because of his age compared to the younger Stephen Fraser, an attorney-at-law, the AFC General Secretary said the GECOM Chairman’s appointment is inconsistent with a stance that has been already taken. “This appointment is also anti-AFC to the core. We have been the party of choice for youths and progressive thinkers. We have made it our duty to always nominate candidates who were not only academically qualified, but who also represented our vision of inclusiveness in areas such as gender, race, religion and of course, youth.
Please recall that we opposed the appointment of now Speaker- on the sole basis of his age, we recommended the more youthful Stephen Fraser and Abiola Wong, we provided strong, passionate arguments why youth should prevail,” said the party official.
David Patterson, who is also the Minister of Public Infrastructure, was worried that given past unfortunate experiences with GECOM over a seat in Region 10 and monies not being provided, its position on the GECOM Chairman’s appointment would leave it no space to contest decisions if “in the off-chance” the AFC contests the 2018 local government elections or the 2020 national elections on its own.
Obviously referring to Ramjattan’s advice to Granger that if he had not agreed with the names on Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo’s second list of nominees, he enjoyed the constitutional right to appoint someone unilaterally, the senior AFC politician feared that the party has facilitated the setting of an “unwanted new political precedence in our country”. “We should not be the party supporting “loopholes” or “tie-breaking clauses” in our Constitution- these should only be used in the absolutely last resort”, Patterson added.
Ramjattan, an AFC co-founder, admitted to David Patterson that in “hindsight and quite honestly” he found his arguments difficult to reject “in view of the unpopularity of the development”
In a previously leaked email, Ramjattan said he and AFC Leader, Raphael Trotman had told the president that he could have constitutionally appoint someone of his preference. Ramjattan justified his decision to advise the President in light of Jagdeo’s ‘unfit and improper’ nominees and the need to get GECOM functioning.
Ramjattan told his party colleagues that the AFC must set about to urgently nail the PPP’s lie that the 2018 and 2020 elections would be rigged. He noted that the PPP would have played the race card at the bottom houses if Attorney-at-Law, Teni Housty was picked from among the 18 nominees and appointed as GECOM Chairman, in addition the fact that the Chief Elections Officer, is Keith Lowenfield.
Former AFC Treasurer, Dominic Gaskin said he was unhappy with the outcome but argued that little could have been done to prevent it especially since the President has the legal right to appoint someone of his choice. He noted that the constitution allows for the President and the Opposition Leader to manufacture a failure and trigger a unilateral appointment.
He suggested while the President had been delivering “cryptic messages” on the issue presumably to secure a strategic advantage, Jagdeo appeared to have won some public relations points because he had predicted that Granger would have picked someone who was not on the lists he (Jagdeo) had submitted. “I believe this has backfired badly since Jagdeo had predicted a unilateral appointment and it has now come to pass, making him the more credible messenger in the eyes of a large section of our population. It also helps him to exploit the PNC’s (People’s National Congress) track record on elections,” said Gaskin in the email exchange. The PNC’s rule from 1964 to 1992 had been characterised by rigged elections.
Dr. Rohan Somar, a key backer of the AFC, railed against Granger’s unilateral appointment of Justice Patterson, an Afro-Guyanese, and predicted that would cause the party to lose East Indian support. “Given the worsening racial polarization in GY (Guyana), this unilateral appointment by the PNC Executive President of an Afro Guyanese GECOM Chairman, whether right or wrong, rips open the scars of PNC rigging the election. You have just thrown red meat to the notion of ‘PNC rigging election’ which, in my view, will cause to forever lose Indo-Guyanese support at the polls,” said Somar.
He reasoned that the public support of a decision without being part of it “renders you impotent” in any talks about the AFC’s future role in the next election coalition cycle. “By not taking a stand here, you have caused serious damage to your position table. If I was sitting across the table in a coalition discussion, you would get ‘Jack Squat’ (nothing) because you have tipped your hand that you have no place to go other than to continue to play second fiddle with the PNC dominated coalition,” he said.
For her party, AFC Executive Member Cathy Hughes cautioned against falling into the historical trap of race-based fears and perceptions of an Afro-Guyanese being a GECOM Chairman and Blacks and PNC rigged elections to keep Indo-Guyanese out. “It can go further because of this…We ain’t going to accept a Black man as Chair of GECOM. Now there is nothing concrete the uttering of potential delays and rigging these assumptions are based on other than hearsay and our racial insecurities. And our own people are repeating this crap,” she said.