The Public Security Minister in a recent television program is reported to have said that the government is fully prepared to deal with any civil strife. He was at the time speaking about the rulings and consequential orders of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
As the public security point man, it can be assumed that the Minister is knowledgeable of related national plans, more specifically, those to deal with civil strife. Naturally, one must ask if he is expecting that, and if so, why?
Generally, civil strife emanates from discontent over an issue or issues that affect people at the national level especially when their freedom, rights and livelihoods are on the line, a case in point; the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
People, like those in Hong Kong, would not accept what they believe to be impositions by the government and will exercise their right to protest to bring awareness to their concerns. In the context of what the CCJ mandated and people’s dissatisfaction over government’s related action or lack thereof, is the Minister’s comment a hint of what’s to come if protest action were to be taken?
Security forces are either instructed to quell protests or protect the right of those involved to do so. Notably, Guyana has a very dark past under the People’s National Congress (PNC) regime from 1964-1992 with regard to freedom of expression.
During that very oppressive period, dissatisfaction was rife and opposing was met with brutal responses from the security forces and thugs suspected to be loyal to that Party. In the process of exercising their right to oppose, many Guyanese in that period were beaten and jailed.
While protecting their votes from being stolen in the 1973 elections, two young voters, Jagan Ramessar and Bholanauth Parmanand, were shot and killed reportedly by members of the Army who came to remove the ballot boxes. Many others were injured in that incident on July 16 and the two killed revered as the Ballot Box Martyrs.
On July 14, 1979, Jesuit Priest Father Bernard Darke, was killed while photographing a demonstration by members of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), which opposed the PNC government. At the time, some of its leaders were being hauled before the courts in a Police van which the demonstrators followed. They were attacked by an armed gang and in the melee, the Priest was stabbed.
Incidents like those drove fear into the minds of Guyanese who dared standing up to the PNC dictatorship. Despite that, the citizenry felt the urge to raise their voices in opposition to undemocratic practices meted out to them. Presently, the CCJ has ruled that the constitution must be followed with integrity in keeping with the successful passage of the December 21, 2018, no-confidence motion (NCM) which precipitated elections within three months.
While it should have happened as of March 21, 2019, the government bought time in the courts. The CCJ ruling of June 18, 2019, would have mandated such elections by September 18. It reiterated that the constitution be followed in its July 12, 2019, consequential orders. That includes the appointment of a new Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
These are issues of the highest national order and, to date, there is no tangible evidence that the government is moving in the direction to honour the constitution. From all appearances, it seems that the President is once again desirous of having a GECOM Chairman of his choice and has even put forward eight names.
He then claimed of wanting the process completed within days and hopes that the Leader of the Opposition concurs. This is in spite not responding to a proposal by the Opposition Leader for both working throughout the last weekend to have the matter resolved.
It therefore seems a ploy by the President to say he is willing to name a Chairman within days given it’s probably one from of his list of eight. Objections by the Opposition Leader would then be seen as delaying the process.
However, the constitution clearly states that the President must chose a Chairman from a list of names submitted only by the Opposition Leader; a stipulation reiterated strongly by the CCJ. The Opposition Leader would therefore be in order to not consider any name suggested by the President. The reality is continuous delay on the part of the President.
The holding of the elections is also dependent on a Chairman being in place at GECOM. With every passing day of deliberate delay, the constitutional timeline gets push further back which seems the unambiguous desire of the government. Leading Diplomats have also urged adherence, expeditiously, to the CCJ ruling and constitutional provisions.
In these circumstances, the people of Guyana have every right to raise their voices in ways enshrined by the constitution, including protests, to bring awareness to the government’s disregard for constitutional processes and the CCJ’s ruling.
Is the Public Security Minister hinting that any such attempts could be deemed as civil strife and would therefore be met by response for which he says preparations are in place? Having been seemingly consumed by the PNC, is the Minister reminding what those responses could be as history reminds?