Massive protest of Parliament’s prorogation set for today —despite Granger’s assurances to the contrary
THE Main Opposition coalition, ‘A Partnership for National Unity’ (APNU), with support from the Alliance For Change (AFC), has planned a massive protest action for today, beginning at noon, to register its objection to the decision to prorogue Parliament.
President Donald Ramotar announced his decision to prorogue Parliament in an address to the nation on Monday. To prorogue Parliament means in essence that the current session is suspended up to a maximum of six months – a move that is provided for in Section 70 (1) of Guyana’s Constitution.
The Head of State also made it clear that his intention was to give dialogue a chance to address the impasses that have invaded the political arena since the 2011 elections, rather than have Parliament dissolved, as promised by the combined opposition via the Alliance For Change-sponsored no-confidence motion.
Despite the President’s expressed intentions, APNU has made clear that it will move ahead with its protest rally, which will be held at the Square of the Revolution today. The action has been billed as a ‘Rally for the restoration of Democracy’.
The main speaker will be Leader of the Opposition, Brigadier (rtd.) David Granger, but there will also be presentations by representatives from the Alliance For Change (AFC), the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the Guyana Action Party (GAP), the National Front Alliance (NFA), and from religious and civic leaders.
“President Ramotar has insulted the entire nation with his menacing remarks and his prorogation of the Parliament of Guyana. The President has no grounds for his crude intrusion into the domain of parliamentary independence and for flouting the Constitution,” APNU said in a statement.
PROMISE OF PEACE
Brigadier (rtd) Granger, the Leader of the Opposition, has assured of a peaceful protest, and has called on the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Mark Phillips, and Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud not to be “drawn into any unlawful actions” against law-abiding citizens.
APNU has issued a statement reminding the Chief of Staff and the Commissioner of Police that the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, at Article 147, protects a citizen’s right to “…freedom of assembly, association, and freedom to demonstrate peacefully. That [is] to say, his or her right to assemble freely, to demonstrate peacefully, and to associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to political parties, trade unions, or other associations for the protection of his or her interests.”
“All members of the defence forces and disciplined services are required to behave in a professional manner in the performance of their duties. They are to ensure that the law is enforced and the Constitution is upheld,” Granger stressed.
Despite Granger’s assurance of peaceful protests, his call on the leaders of the security forces “not to be drawn into any unlawful actions” against law-abiding citizens and the occurrences during past protest actions have fuelled fears in several sections of Guyanese society, including the private sector.
Adding further fuel to the proverbial fire is the fact that leaders from both APNU and AFC have subtly hinted at possible trouble on Monday, during a meeting with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Raphael Trotman, in the National Assembly’s Chambers.
A Facebook post by APNU, made yesterday, is being viewed as an indication of unrest, and is simultaneously being seen as a cop-out by the political party to avoid responsibility for any unrest that may be caused by the party’s protest.
The post read: “We have to be aware and be careful in our country now and even at this stage where we also have to protect our Indian brothers and sisters in their villages, since these people are capable of starting a massacre so as to throw blame on others.”
Comments made by APNU Member of Parliament (MP) Mr Carl Greenidge on Monday have also raised eyebrows. “When King Charles in 1929 had prorogued his Parliament, I don’t think he anticipated that route he was setting out on….He lost his head directly as a result of proroguing,” Greenidge said, making what has since been deemed a troubling reference.
AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan, at Monday’s meeting, instigated that the Government should not be surprised if Guyanese respond violently to President Donald Ramotar’s decision to prorogue Parliament. He has since been quoted as saying that he would be surprised if “all hell does not break loose in the streets before that time by the frustrated masses spontaneously reacting to the PPP/C’s lawlessness. The PPP/C is provoking protests.”
He added that “What we are being led into could be terrible, it could be horrific…(when you [the Government] do what you are doing), you are playing with fire and more fire.”
Additional evidence of the fears of possible unrest have been seen in the warnings and notices issued by several embassies and consulates to their citizens. The Georgetown Embassy of the United States of America (USA) was the latest to warn its citizens to avoid being in the area where the demonstrations are scheduled to occur.
APPEAL TO GOOD SENSE
Meanwhile, President Donald Ramotar, in an invited comment on Wednesday, told the Guyana Chronicle that he hopes “good sense prevails” moving forward.
“I hope good sense prevails… (but) we have experienced those things before”, Ramotar insisted, when asked about the expectations of unrest during today’s protest.
While the last two elections, 2011 and 2006, have been peaceful, unrests in Guyana have been the result of political tensions as recent as 2001. The polls of 2001, 1997 and 1992 saw incidents of violence quickly escalate into angry public protests and retaliation.
Miembro de Unasur y Mercosur atraviesa polémica situación institucional
La República Cooperativa de Guyana, miembro fundador de Unasur y en proceso de integración a Mercosur se encuentra en medio de una situación institucional que en algunos países miembros de Caricom animan a definir como un ‘quiebre’ luego que el presidente Donald Ramotar suspendió el parlamento por seis meses temiendo un resultado adverso en un voto de confianza.
Por lo visto el presidente invocó un oscuro recurso constitucional para sustentar su decisión, a la vez que admitió estar suspendiendo la actual legislatura para “el beneficio de nuestro pueblo”.
Empero la oposición ha puesto el grito en el cielo sobretodo que la medida se adoptó cuando los legisladores retornaban a sesionar tras un receso de dos meses.
Ramotar argumentó que bajo la figura de ‘prórroga’ el Ejecutivo podía suspender el parlamento hasta un máximo de seis meses. Argumenta que el mecanismo le permite gobernar sin el control legislativo ni la necesidad de un llamado anticipado de elecciones.
En un discurso a la nación guyanesa el presidente Ramator sostuvo que “la decisión de ejercer esta opción constitucional no fue adoptada en premura, por el contrario es el único recurso que me quedaba para asegurar que la vida de la legislatura perdure”.
Pero el jefe de la oposición Moses Nagamootoo, cuyo partido en agosto elevó la moción del voto de confianza, acusó a la administración de Ramotar de ser “un gobierno recalcitrante y renegado”.
En efecto, la coalición opositora cuenta con 33 votos en 65 para hacer efectivo su planteamiento de no confianza que obligaría a un llamado a elecciones.
La vida política de la ex colonia británica no es fácil: arrastra desde sus inicios una profunda división etno-racial, los descendientes de africanos traídos como esclavos por los ingleses y los hindúes también llegados más tarde a impulso de la metrópoli que entonces dominaba el mundo.
Al momento el partido de los Indo-guyaneses de Ramotar tiene la minoría mayor, 32 votos en tanto la coalición encabezada por los Afro-guyaneses controlan la mayoría legislativa con 33 miembros electos.
En agosto pasado al instrumentarse el pedido de un ‘voto de confianza’, Ramotar se negó a convocar al parlamento sabiendo que estaba condenado a un llamado a elecciones y por tanto vencido el plazo apeló a la cuestionada prórroga de seis meses.
Ramotar ha dicho también que en estos seis meses hará todos los esfuerzos posibles para intentar un ‘diálogo constructivo’ con la oposición y si no se alcanza un acuerdo de normalidad, no tendría otra salida que el llamado a elecciones.
Pero también demuestra una intención de mantenerse en el poder y de subvertir el espíritu y razón de una democracia que es el control parlamentario del Ejecutivo. Según varios diarios caribeños el escenario es el de “un presidente electo camino a convertirse un dictador de facto”.
Dialogue is an essential cog in the democratic wheel – Gov’t’s door is always open – AG
The move by President Donald Ramotar to prorogue the parliament has not only caught the opposition unprepared, but left them in “undecipherable shock” despite it has several lawyers within its rank, Attorney-General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall said.
The opposition seemed unprepared or unable to ascertain that prorogation would have been an option for the government via the president, the Attorney-General stated during a television programme ‘The 10th parliament and the Way Forward’ on the National Communications Network, this evening.
“Mr. Joe Harmon’s reference to the prorogation rendering the opposition homeless is most misleading. Prorogation is but a temporary suspension of the sittings of the National Assembly. Dissolution- that is the termination in its entirety of the 10th Parliament would have been the irreversible consequence of the no- confidence motion being pursued by the opposition. So it’s the no-confidence motion that would have rendered the opposition figuratively homeless, not the prorogation,” Minister Nandlall stated.
Asked about the stated intentions and oft repeated statement by the joint opposition “our way or no way” with regards to dialogue with the Government, Minister Nandlall described it as a most unfortunate position. He said however, that the population will judge for themselves, noting that stakeholder high-level meetings have been conducted where the stakeholders have all called for dialogue, and at the soonest possible time.
“The people of Guyana would have heard repeated pronouncements made by the opposition to the effect that they want dialogue, and that they are interested in building consensus and a harmonious relationship with the Government for the public good, that very public will now see an opposition who, when perhaps it matters the most, are rejecting dialogue and constructive engagements with the Government,” the AG stated.
“Constructive engagement and dialogue in an effort to find compromise is what the prorogation presents.”
Leadership and statesmanship are best seen in times that are trying, according to the Minister, as “every political leader should have these qualities, and is now presented with a great opportunity to demonstrate them”. He cited the fact that countries such as Australia and Canada have had prorogation by their leadership and emerged exemplars.
Reacting to the threats being made by the political opposition and calls for protests, the Minister stressed the fact that when the issue of the no-confidence motion was first put in the public domain, his party, the PPP, did not mobilise its supporters for, or threaten similar action.
“We acknowledged and recognised that as a constitutional and lawful power which the opposition enjoys, and of course we reserved our right as a government to respond by employing similar constitutional and lawful methods, and we have done so.”
Acknowledging the constitutional right of the opposition to voice their disagreement with the action taken by the President to prorogue the Parliament, Minister Nandlall, said that so too it must be accepted that the action taken by the Government is permissible by the very constitution.
“It is important to remember that while the prorogation mechanism has been with us since Independence, the no -confidence power enjoyed by the opposition was only inserted in the Constitution during the 1999-2000 Constitutional process. This process was engineered by and took place under the tenure of a PPPC Administration in our quest to enhance our democratic process and conferring greater power to our Parliament.”
Dialogue an essential cog in the democratic wheel
Speaking of the impeding protest threats, Minister Nandlall said the question must be asked if demonstrating, though legal, is the best recourse at this time. He noted that given the possible mayhem that could result, “one has to question whether this is the right approach. Shouldn’t it have been better to have constructive discussions?” he asked.
Protest, the Minister explained, must be a last recourse as, “Dialogue is an essential cog in the democratic wheel. We have not even had an attempt to engage government on the issue of dialogue,” he added.
The most recent statement issued by the opposition leader calling on the security forces not to interfere with any peaceful protests, was described as a “loaded statement”, by the Attorney-General. He opined that it may be reflective of a time when Brigadier retired David Granger was serving in the military, during which he had admitted to being a member of the then ruling PNC Party. The statement made by the late PNC leader Desmond Hoyte calling on the security services to remember that protestors were their “kith and kin” was also recalled by the Minister.
“Why was this statement necessary in the first place?” the AG asked. “Over the last 20 years, our Administration has never attempted to interfere with our armed forces in the discharge of their duty. All we have demanded is that they act professionally, and demonstrate their allegiance to the Constitution which they took an oath to uphold.”
There was an attempt to gather a large number of protestors at the Parliament Buildings, following President Ramotar’s decision to prorogue Parliament on Monday, but this strenuous effort failed.
He highlighted Guyana’s economic growth over the last nine years and gains in various sectors noting that, “these are not propagandistic statistics”.
He added that, “Where we are as a people is the best that we have ever seen in this country”. Poverty though existent, Minister Nandlall said, is at a far lower level than the political opposition would have many believe. Persons are more concerned with their economic well-being, and have moved past the stage of public protests, he opined, further describing such actions as a “retrograde step”.
“Unfortunately it would appear as though our people are ahead of the leaders. They have seen their lives improved. The protestors of 1997 now own their own homes, some of them have their own vehicles, some have jobs, some have businesses, and are now not prepared to engage in protest actions which can easily be avoided by their leaders engaging the Government in dialogue.”
The Government’s door is always open for dialogue, the Minister stated emphatically, adding that responsible leadership demands that the offer made be accepted. Compromises must and can be made, he stressed.
He said that whilst both sides had demands, any such action must be for the good of the country and reminded of the need for the passage of Anti-Money Laundering Bill for example.
The AG also reflected on the statements that there would be no support for the upcoming National Budget, and said that it was a similar theme echoed previously. “They cut the 2012 budget, the 2013 budget, and the 2014 budget when prorogation was not a factor in the political matrix. So I am not surprised, it obviously shows that the political opposition is not of the frame of mind to lead this country in the future,” the AG opined.
“It is important to remember that while the prorogation mechanism has been with us since Independence, the no-confidence power enjoyed by the opposition was only inserted in the Constitution during the 199-2000 Constitutional process. This process was engineered by and took place under the tenure of a PPPC Administration in our quest to enhance our democratic process and conferring greater power to our parliament.”