January 12 marked the 22nd anniversary of one of our nation’s dark days. In 1998, many Guyanese were beaten, robbed and molested. Subsequently, many victims related their horrific ordeals which were captured in an inquiry conducted by a private group. In retrospect, the atrocities committed on that day may have had its genesis the year before.
In 1997, the results of the general elections held were not accepted by the then People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Opposition. That refusal led to prolonged massive street protests and in the process, violence was unleashed on many citizens and some properties burnt. The ensuing instability heightened tensions and fear. Businesses and the national economy almost ground to a halt and the country’s progress was set back.
The PNCR, which was convinced that the elections were fraudulent despite the contrary, as expressed by observers, maintained that the then People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) Government would not be recognised. Its actions to make the country ungovernable was therefore not by coincidence but deliberate means to try and force the Government to demit office.
The situation worsened as time progressed and the post-election violence made international headlines tarnishing the country’s image. The Government maintained that it was democratically elected and that the Opposition, with a known history, was attempting to take the seat of power by illegal means.
The Opposition PNCR refused to relent and allow for constitutional and democratic processes to work. Turning a blind eye to the negative consequences its actions were having on the country and people at the time, it seemed obsessed with its intention of being the Government. As the stalemate continued and as fear and uncertainty swirled, the PNCR made demands for external intervention which resulted in Caricom establishing a commission to help resolve the impasse.
As months went by, the commission derived the Herdmanston Accord – which both sides signed in acceptance, willingly or unwillingly. That Accord instructed an agreement from the Government to reduce its five-year constitutionally-mandated term in office to three years and that fresh elections be held two years before legally due.
The context of what transpired then is unambiguous. Simply put, the democratically elected PPP/C Government was made to reduce its term in office following orchestrated and sustained acts by the PNCR to render the country unstable and ungovernable; their wishes seemingly realised by Caricom’s intervention and presence.
It’s worthwhile to note that the elections in 2001, the timeline dictated by the Accord, was also not without violence. The PPP/C won and again, not wanting to accept the results, PNCR-led street protests were mounted with inevitable consequences.
On January 12, 1998, the court ruled in favour of the PPP/C regarding the outcome of the 1997 elections. What transpired immediately after the decision was announced, is etched in the dark category of our nation’s history.
What seems clear from those incidents, is the unmistakable trait of a political entity to destabilise when its desire is not fulfilled, even if that desire would have contradicted democratic norms and disregard for the rule of law.
During 2011-2015 under the Donald Ramotar administration, the PNC-led Opposition embarked on bringing a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against the PPP/C Government. In doing so, it boasted of its clear understanding of the constitutional procedures of a successful NCM.
Armed with its combined one-seat majority of 33 against 32, it knew the threatened NCM would be successful, that the Government would have fallen and fresh elections to be held within the constitutionally-mandated 90-day period. Importantly, it knew that a majority of one vote was all that was needed to topple the PPP/C Government; 33 out of 65.
While in Government, a duplicitous APNU/AFC found all excuses to claim that 33 is not a majority of 65 and as such, took actions to try and deem the December 21, 2018, NCM as invalid.
That’s evidence of a wholesale and convenient contradiction of what it boasted of previously. Even in the face of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling, the APNU/AFC Government avoided implementation of the constitutional procedures that follow a successful NCM.
From all appearances, it was consumed with efforts to remain in office in defiance of the Constitution. Its continued defiance is not only unimaginable but extremely worrisome in the context of its own history of being reluctant to accept electoral defeat and abide with the rule of law. That is aside from conveniently dumping its own position while in the Opposition a few years ago.
The related consequences are obvious and not totally dissimilar to previous times in the country’s history as reflected of what transpired on January 12, 1998. Some worrying reminders surfaced through recent attacks on PPP/C’s activists in Laing Avenue and in other areas.
All efforts from all stakeholders must, therefore, be made for holistic condemnation of such acts and to ensure a peaceful elections process. The PNC, now APNU/AFC, is a major stakeholder. That responsibility must be taken and must not escape them. Worryingly, their recent actions suggest otherwise.