The no-confidence motion was debated and carried in the 65 elected member National Assembly by a vote of 33-32. All through the voting, the display of the governing coalition was blatant in the physical and verbal abuse on Mr Charandas Persaud by members of the AFC and APNU. Within 24 hours after the vote, both the Prime Minister and the President accepted that the vote had been successful. The Clerk of the National Assembly certified that the motion received 33 votes in favour and many Guyanese saw this as a welcoming sign of the respect of the rule of law. We have subsequently seen a U-turn as there are now ‘questions’ on the successful passage of the motion. Let us look at these in detail.
33 vs 34 – the majority question
The first uproar came from Nigel Hughes who said that for the motion to pass it required 34 votes in favor in a 65-member house. I will not go into his math which – to put it very politely – is absolute nonsense. The bigger question – rather, the real question is not the math. The question is not what number constitutes a majority, but rather ask yourself why is it that 33 is no longer a majority.
The outcome of the 2011 General and Regional Elections was that the incumbent PPP/C received 32 seats, APNU received 26 seats, and AFC received 7 seats. The PPP/C retained the presidency and Government according to the constitution. APNU and AFC sitting separately in the opposition commanded 33 seats in total. At the opening of the Tenth Parliament, the Hansard dated February 10, 2012, recorded the following statements (the Speaker of the House at this time was Raphael Trotman):
Leader of the Opposition [Brigadier (Ret’d) David Granger]: “Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise on behalf of the majority of this Hon House…”
“…we ask you, Mr Speaker, to ensure that the will of the majority of this House is respected.”
Mr Ramjattan: “…this National Assembly has as a majority – the members of the Opposition.”
Mr Speaker: “The uniqueness both of this National Assembly, with an Opposition majority…”
These three statements are significant for two specific reasons. Firstly, it came from the leaders of the two parties forming the opposition in Parliament after the 2011 elections, including from a Speaker of the House that was from the AFC. Secondly and most importantly, each of the statements above made reference to the majority of the House and not a majority of the members present. Briefly put, Mr Granger, Mr Ramjattan, and Mr Trotman, who were all members of the opposition holding 33 seats combined firmly believed and pontificated that holding 33 seats in total equated to having a majority of the National Assembly and the House as a whole.
In 2015 General and Regional elections were held. The result was that the APNU+AFC coalition received 33 votes and the PPP/C received 32. Under the Constitution, APNU+AFC took the presidency and formed a Government. In response to the 2018 no-confidence motion tabled by the PPP/C, the following statement was made by the Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo:
“It must have a majority of all elected members of National Assembly. Our National Assembly has 65 members. It means that the motion of no-confidence, in order to pass, must have 33 members who are elected as members of the National Assembly.” – DPI November 23, 2018
It is therefore clear and indisputable that the leaders of APNU and AFC held that 33 members constituted a majority of the National Assembly from 2012 – 2018. For eight years 33 constituted a majority. It is also critically important to remember that after the passage of the motion both Prime Minister Nagamootoo and President Granger agreed that the motion was successful.
In these eight years, Nigel Hughes was a member of the AFC and did not once disagree. Hughes has cited the case of Vanuatu (where the elected House of their Parliament has 52 members) as his logic behind the 34 majority number. There are two flaws in his reasoning and as Hughes notes you can’t have half of a person, we will focus on whole numbers.
The first issue with this is the number 52. 52 is an even number, and even numbers are equally divisible into two parts resulting in whole numbers of equal value. For example: 25+25=50, 12+12=24, etc. Secondly (and as a result of the first), all even numbers will – as a minimum – have a majority of a whole number that is two more than the minority. For example: 26+24=50, 13+11=24, etc.
The same does not hold true for odd numbers which are not divisible into two parts resulting in whole numbers of equal value (the result will always be a decimal). For example: 25.5+25.5=51, 12.5+12.5=25, etc. Therefore, odd numbers will – as a minimum – have a majority of a whole number that is one more than the minority. For example: 26+25=51, 13+12=25, etc.
As demonstrated above, with regards to the 65 elected members of the National Assembly, the following facts are clear and have been endorsed by those now in Government:
1. That 33 is a majority of the House of 65 elected members.
2. That the leadership of APNU and AFC since 2012 supported this fact.
3. That APNU and AFC holding – collectively and in coalition – 33 seats since 2012 have expressed the conviction that 33 is a majority up till December 23, 2018.
4. That Nigel Hughes did not since 2012 give any objection to APNU and AFC claiming a majority with 33 seats until the APNU+AFC Government fell from the passage of the 2018 no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018.