Decision prompted by firing of over 7000 sugar workers
One year after NCM vote
Everyone waited with bated breaths as the No-Confidence Motion was put to vote. It was the evening of December 21, 2018.
The coalition government was confident that the Parliamentary Opposition was wasting its time and that it had the full support of all 33 of its parliamentarians.
Then suddenly, from within the Government benches, a resounding “yes” echoed throughout the hollow chambers of Parliament.
There was immediate chatter, and then, all that was heard was “Charrandass, no!”
Charrandass Persaud, an Alliance For Change (AFC) backbencher, had just created history.
For the first time in Guyana’s National Assembly, a Member of Parliament (MP) voted against his own Government, causing it to topple on a motion of no-confidence.
Confusion then permeated throughout the packed the chamber. The voting was paused. Government Leaders tried all that they can to convince their colleague to change his vote.
After more than five minutes of interruption, House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland instructed that Clerk Sherlock Isaacs retake the vote of the Government members.
And the defeat could not have been any clearer, as Charrandass Persaud boldly declared “yes, yes, yes!”
All over again
One year later, and despite the year-long ruckus that followed that fateful night, Persaud said he would do it all over again.
“Frankly, if I had to do it again, I would do it willingly,” Persaud said, in a statement to the media Friday night.
Persaud’s life was threatened and, on that very night, he was forced to flee the country, fearing that he would no longer be safe in Guyana following his vote.
At that time, Persaud explained that the AFC’s subordinate role to the majority A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) was the main reason he made a conscious vote.
As he reflected on that night, Persaud noted that he could no longer stay with a party that “lost its purpose”.
“As the days went by for me as a Parliamentarian, I became more and more uncomfortable sitting as an AFC MP. It was obvious that the AFC had lost its purpose; lost its direction and had become ‘yes men’. We were mere toys in the hands of the PNC,” he outlined.
For instance, he highlighted the issue with sugar workers, saying that the AFC had no say on the matter.
“When it came to the closure of the sugar estates, even [Moses] Nagamootoo, as Prime Minister, had no say. It was handed to us, the AFC, and we embraced it…The AFC showed no backbone and so we were dominated by the PNC in the name of ‘coalition’,” he explained.
Prior to the no-confidence vote, Persaud recalled that he and other backbenchers had emailed the AFC leadership, requesting a meeting to discuss the matter but the request was denied.
“That email met with a simple response from Nagamootoo…‘vote when we vote’. As backbenchers, we had no say in anything and so we supported all government bills blindly. That was wrong,” Persaud explained.
Cling to power
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which had tabled the motion, reminded of the issues that fuelled its no-confidence in the Government.
“The corruption, incompetence, lack of vision, discrimination, neglect of the productive sectors, mismanagement and squandermania which permeate every sector of Government over the past year, aggregate to vindicate the passage of the NCM,” the Party said in a statement Friday night.
And, in reflecting on the past 12 months, the PPP pointed out that the Government has shown the entire world the lengths to which it will travel to “cling to political power, including disobeying rulings from the Judiciary, abrogating the rule of law, trampling upon the Constitution, destroying the nation’s democratic credentials and governing by tyranny rather than the Constitution and by virtue of the will of the people”.
“Notwithstanding the fact that they are utterly illegal, they continue in office as if it is business as usual,” the PPP added.
In fact, the Party pointed out that this past year has showcased the Government’s “tenacious attempts to deny the right of the Guyanese electorate to exercise their franchise to vote at the next elections and their aggressive agenda to compromise the electoral process”.
Members of the coalition government had evidently accepted defeat.
The House Speaker had concluded that: “Honourable Members, you have heard the result of the vote, 33 in favour and 32 against. It means that the motion is carried”.
Government Chief Whip Amna Ally had earlier, during the debates, declared “the APNU/AFC has a solid 33. You have an indecisive 32”.
AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan had also posited “they [Opposition] not gonna get anybody [to vote in their favour]. People are very sensible”.
Even President David Granger accepted defeat, committing to having early elections. In a statement, he said, “We will do everything necessary to facilitate the smooth functioning of General and Regional Elections”.
But then, the Government mounted a legal challenge, claiming that it was not defeated by the No-Confidence Motion, that 33 did not form the majority of the 65-member House.
The legal challenge made it all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which upheld the passage of the motion, with Justice Winston Anderson lamenting the slothfulness in the preparation for elections, which ought to have been held by March 21, 2019 – in keeping with the Guyana Constitution.
Apart from the ruling on the motion, the CCJ also handed down a landmark ruling on the appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as the Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission.
According to the CCJ, the appointment, which was done unilaterally by the President, was unconstitutional.
Thus, began the long dance between the Head-of-State and the Opposition Leader to select a new GECOM Chairman.
Eventually, Retired Justice Claudette Singh was mutually agreed upon and appointed, and the preparations for elections commenced.
Prior to the CCJ ruling on this matter, however, GECOM – on the orders of Justice Patterson – began a lengthy House-to-House Registration process, despite lack of Opposition support – which was eventually halted following a court ruling.
Today, GECOM – under the leadership of Justice Singh – continues to battle with the preparation of the Official List of Electors, with the Government pushing for the inclusion of the data gathered during the now-scrapped House-to-House Registration process, even though evidence shows that a lot of the information is flawed.
For example, some of the persons listed as new registrants are either dead or were previously registered.
Elections are expected to be held on March 2, 2020 – more than a year after the Government was defeated by the No-Confidence Motion.
And, according to the PPP, these past four years should demonstrate to all why the APNU/AFC coalition should “never be trusted again with political power”.