Despite government claims to the contrary, it has not been all “business as usual” in Guyana following the contentious December 21 no-confidence motion.
The effective result of the 33-32 vote in the country’s 65-seat House of Assembly remains entangled in successive legal challenges and is due for conclusive hearing at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on May 10.
Citing “political uncertainty”, business groups have complained of a (disputed) slowdown in business. Foreign missions in Georgetown have been meeting with the country’s two leading political groups.
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, holds at least one lengthy press conference a week, and the government has accelerated its “outreach” programmes to highlight gains since taking office on May 11, 2015.
The David Granger administration has meanwhile been contesting the one-vote margin that followed the defection of one of its MPs, arguing that it is 34 and not 33 votes that would constitute a parliamentary “majority” in such a case.
Granger is himself receiving treatment for cancer and has for months been in and out of the country for chemotherapy and other medical care in Cuba.
A ruling on the status of MPs holding dual citizenship has, however, not been challenged and, on Tuesday, in a delayed response, four senior government MPs submitted their resignations as members of Cabinet and Parliament.
The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has meanwhile announced that two of its three MPs with dual citizenship plan to renounce allegiance to other countries. The other MP, Adrian Annamayah, says he does not plan to relinquish his status as a citizen of the United States because of family commitments.
Both the High Court and Court of Appeal pronounced on the issue in the face of a challenge to the outcome of December’s 33-32 vote.
The rulings meant that both the government, which used the dual citizenship of defecting MP Charrandas Persaud as the basis for one of its several challenges and the PPP would find themselves without the services of several key operatives in parliament.
Under Guyana’s list system of proportional representation, the balance of power in parliament, however, remains as a slender 33-32 majority in favour of the ruling A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) + Alliance for Change (AFC) coalition.
The PPP is, however, not expected to attend an April 11 sitting of the Assembly in the absence of an election date. That sitting is, among other things, due to debate an increase in the budget of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to facilitate the upgrading of the country’s list of eligible voters in time for premature elections.
The GECOM chairman, retired judge James Patterson, in a March 19 letter to President Granger, said the commission “would be in a position to conduct General and Regional Elections no earlier than late November 2019.”
Jagdeo has, however, said that should the CCJ rule in favour of the validity of the no-confidence motion “the timelines would not be November, it would have to be a short period thereafter because the government would “seen the end of running out of excuses.”
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Under a 2000 constitutional amendment, GECOM comprises an equal number — three each — of Opposition and Government representatives. The PPP-designated commissioners have staged repeated walkouts of meetings of the body in protest at what they view as stalling tactics ahead of premature elections on account of the no-confidence motion.
Minister of State in the Office of the President, Joseph Harmon, was among those who have resigned as MPs along with Minister of Public Service Rupert Roopnarine, Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge and Dominic Gaskin, Minister of Business.
Harmon spoke with Guardian Media at his Georgetown office days before he submitted his resignation.
He vigorously denied claims of a “constitutional crisis” in the country and said since the December vote, the government has been performing its functions, albeit under unusual conditions. The January 31 High Court ruling, for example, did not offer a stay of execution with respect to the continued powers of the Cabinet.
The status quo was, however, arguably in some quarters, restored by the Court of Appeal on March 22 when it ruled, by majority decision, that 34 votes were needed in order to pass the vote of no confidence in the government.
The question of an “absolute”, as opposed to a “simple” majority, is expected to be settled by the CCJ.
In an interview with Guardian Media, Jagdeo said his party was confident of success in court but complained that the government has meanwhile been employing state finances in what amounted to aggressive election campaigning.
He also conceded that while his party “in the last several months” had been focusing on the constitutional issues and was “caught up in preparation for the elections” it had now decided to turn attention to government “abuses”.
“What we are clear about, after four years of neglect and broken promises, that suddenly there is a flurry of (government) activities,” he said.
PPP presidential candidate, Irfaan Ali, has, however, not been as persistently present in the media and there are lingering questions over his academic credentials. Also notably absent from the opposition circuit have been former Home Affairs Minister and PPP stalwart, Clement Rohee, former president Donald Ramotar, and senior member Frank Anthony who withdrew his nomination as the presidential nominee in favour of Ali.
Attorney and erstwhile presidential aspirant, Anil Nandlall, has also been off the hustings, though he continues to be a leading part of the party’s legal team on the constitutional issues.
The ruling coalition has also come under internal stress with the AFC contesting the November 12 local government elections on its own and losing significant political ground. Under an agreement with its dominant APNU partner, the position of prime minister is assured under the coalition.
Meanwhile, in the face of sharp political division, both the APNU+AFC and PPP have maintained rare political bipartisanship on the question of the border dispute with Venezuela and the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.
The deepening problems in Venezuela have witnessed an influx of asylum-seekers in border areas, even as both parties to the conflict there – the Maduro administration and the Juan Guaidó challenge – appear intent on asserting that country’s longstanding territorial claim to the Essequibo region.
There also appears to be mutual agreement on the integrity of the CCJ as the final arbiter on the no-confidence motion. Prior to the appearance of the CCJ, Guyana’s Court of Appeal was the court of final decision on such matters.
In 1970, the country parted company with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.