Today marks one year after the elections of March 2, 2020, and two years, three months after the No- Confidence Motion (NCM) of December 21, 2018. These dates are markers of the People’s National Congress’s latest desperate efforts to destroy the democratic edifice the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) built after 1992, following the PNC’s rigging of elections in 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985. In those 28 years, the Burnhamite regime had installed a de-facto authoritarian one-party State that made a mockery of its democratic pretentions.
It was against this background that as soon as it slid into office by the narrowest of margins in 2015, the PNC under its leader David Granger prepared to hold on to power by any means necessary. This was signalled by his refusal to adhere to the clearly-stated constitutional rules for appointing the Chairman of GECOM and to unilaterally appoint his choice, James Patterson. The latter justified his selection by throwing several spanners into the election machinery until he was adjudged to have been unconstitutionally appointed by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Concomitantly, Granger refused to obey the even more pellucid constitutional stricture of Article 106 (6)(7) for his Government to resign following its defeat in an NCM moved by the PPP. This precipitated a constitutional crisis that was a harbinger of the lengths Granger and the PNC would go to, to hold on to power by any means necessary. In the words of one constitutional expert, “This was a “crisis of fidelity” which occurs when important political actors are simply unwilling to adhere to the constitutional commitments as they understand them. If consequential political actors determined that a constitutional rule or a prescribed constitutional outcome should be ignored, because some other political priority than following the Constitution is more important, then the Constitution’s ability to guide and constrain political behaviour has, to that degree, been cast into doubt.”
After a tortuous passage through the three tiers of our Judiciary, that crisis was resolved and the PNC was forced to schedule elections. But not in the three months after the judgement in July 2019 as was mandated, but eight months after, on March 2, 2020. The courts were cynically used as a sword to subvert the constitutional basis of our democratic order. Two days before the elections, the US Ambassador issued a statement on “democratic elections” which was eerily prescient as to what lay ahead. We published that statement on Election Day in this space: “To cast a free ballot and minimise the opportunity for intimidation, voters in a democracy must be permitted to cast their ballots in secret. At the same time, the protection of the ballot box and tallying of vote totals must be conducted as openly as possible, so that citizens are confident that the results are accurate and that the Government does, indeed, rest upon their “consent” .”
While it was universally accepted that the first part of the caution – the actual voting – was satisfied, on the following day, all hell broke loose. In full view of the international observers of the US, UK, Caricom, EU, and Commonwealth, and local observers, the PNC crudely attempted to rig the elections as the Region 4 Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo refused to display the SOPs being tallied as statutorily demanded and declared the PNC the winner of the Region and consequently, the general elections.
The country was plunged, not into a constitutional crisis this time but a naked grab for power that once again used the Courts as a sword to deny the right of the people to select their government. It was only because of the fortitude of the people of Guyana, the international community and the integrity of the CCJ that the elections of March 2, were finally declared in favour of the PPP, five months later on Aug 2.
Let us vow as a nation that the PNC would never be allowed to trample on our Constitution as it did between December 21, 2018 and August 1, 2020.