The events that unfolded following the unilateral appointment of the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) have attracted much debate; for and against. Many arguments have been made regarding constitutionality or lack thereof through interpretation and/or misinterpretation. While that will seemingly continue unabated, one certainty is the said appointment was clearly an act of bad faith.
This conclusion is based upon information in the public domain, which alluded to the establishment of a bipartisan committee to “search” for a suitable candidate if the third list of nominees were to be rejected. It is believed that this mechanism was proposed by the Government and while it might have been advised about it not being catered for within the confines of the Constitution, it remained a natural option. None have since disputed this gentleman’s agreement between the leadership of both sides of the political divide.
That anticipated political compromise offered much optimism for consensus to effect arguably the most important appointment of an office holder in our society. More importantly, with the redrawing of conspicuous political lines following the 2015 General Election and the ensuing further polarisation of major factions of society, one would have expected adherence to good faith through the Administration’s own proposal as reported.
The third list was rejected and the thought of the bipartisan committee were immediately suppressed by the announcement of the now infamous unilateral appointment. That brief public proclamation not only demonstrated scant regard for constitutional processes, but shattered expectations for bipartisanship, scuttled the democratic process, evaporated any semblance of trust in the Government and further widened the dividing line among Guyanese.
In other words, that announcement has driven a stake into Guyanese hopes for this government-led bipartisanship, the place where the onus would naturally fall. On deeper examination, it exposes an extended charade during which the public was convinced that 18 CVs were being vetted which necessitated time. None can necessarily argue with such scrutiny given the importance and magnitude of the office in question. However, it was subsequently revealed by the appointee that he was told of his appointment a few hours before his primetime nighttime swearing-in.
That exposed any sense of believability in the prior extensive vetting process. Firstly, in the context of how matters unfolded, should the public believe that scrutiny of the 18 CVs actually took place or was it just a mechanism to create such an expectation? Secondly, within the said context, should the public believe that the current Chairman was not in the reckoning since the beginning of the process? Thirdly, shouldn’t the public believe they were taken for a ride which ended up outside the Constitution? Fourthly, in light of the total abandonment of the proposed bipartisan committee following the third rejection, should the Administration be believed on any matter especially regarding the GECOM appointment?
In addition and still on believability, the new Chairman did not qualify based upon the detailed criteria demanded by the Head of State; criteria that legal luminaries and political pundits blasted as unconstitutional. Another obvious question is why would the Head of State, who convinced the public of being meticulous in his deliberations and who appeared to have wanted all the bases covered, make the decision that is fraught with controversies? Clearly if vetting actually took place as claimed, then, based upon the foisted parameters, there is no way the current Chairman could have taken the oath of office.
What does this mean? Simply that democratic norms and enshrined processes are no longer guarantees in what should be a democratic society. How else can it be stated when there is a blatant disregard by the Administration for the voices of reason in society? The frightening consequences of such disregard have been known publicly by those who are vociferously warning of a returning autocracy. Many are with authentic memories of such in the past and their warnings are for the signs to be heeded.
History will reveal the existence of an autocracy for almost three decades for those with related believability issues. None can doubt the ominous signs of one anew given the suppression of democratic procedures with one example being the unilateral appointment of the new GECOM Chairman. With these two in mind, the believability factor for a return to authoritarian rule is extremely high. Is this the hidden lesson of the said unilateral appointment? Is the lesson now a reality? Many seem convinced.