In a recent panel discussion, the Attorney General reportedly threatened “dire consequences” if house-to-house (HTH) registration is not allowed to proceed. He also reportedly labelled former Member of Parliament Charrandas Persaud’s action in the December 21, 2018 no-confidence motion (NCM) an “act of treachery”, which government supporters may not be happy about, since it could reduce Government’s five-year term.
During the said discourse, he also reportedly stated that it would be difficult to calm Government supporters within a short space of time. That was in the context of them feeling disenfranchised if they are not on the voters’ list through HTH registration, which he contends as the only means of obtaining a credible list.
Aside from him deliberately misinforming on the latter, given that the legislation has enshrined procedures to continually update the voters’ list, so as to avoid anyone being disenfranchised, it is not the first time since passage of the NCM that he has heightened fears over post-election violence. In May this year, he warned of “dire” and “catastrophic” consequences if the Caribbean Court of Justice were to uphold the NCM.
In both instances, the Attorney General may be accused of heightening inherent fears of violence that surround elections, given the fragility of that process and what occurred historically. Also, he may be accused of tacitly telling Government supporters to act in a particular manner if the NCM were to shorten Government’s term in office, and may be giving them an excuse to act similarly if the HTH process is discontinued.
The HTH matter is currently before the Chief Justice in the High Court. Like his previous warning to the CCJ, his most recent comments during the panel discussion could be seen as another attempt to try and influence the Chief Justice, who incidentally upheld the NCM.
From all his related utterances, the Attorney General is seemingly attempting to peddle fear if things are not in Government’s favour, while blowing the proverbial silent whistle to its supporters.
It is a dangerous ploy, as history would attest, and may be within the realms of possible incitement. More so, given the position he holds, he cannot be oblivious of relevant sections of the law that speak to incitement. If he is, then that in itself is cause for concern. If he is not, then the questions of either misinterpretation or disregard could possibly surface.
A few years ago, former President Bharrat Jagdeo was condemned by the APNU/AFC Government and sections of society which believed that he had publicly uttered racially divisive statements. Charges were filed by a private citizen. His lawyer described the charges and the process as “frivolous, vexatious’ and “colossal misuse and abuse” of the relevant section of the law.
Even a cursory perusal of what Mr. Jagdeo said would show clearly that he was condemning racial acts which he believed were perpetrated by supporters of the then Opposition, the APNU/AFC coalition. He distinctly pointed out that, had anyone in the PPP engaged in such despicable racial acts, which he described, that person would have been kicked out of the Party. How could that even have been considered as racially divisive statements?
Many saw that action against the former President as not just an abuse of the system, but also as a possible reminder of what can be meted out to those who oppose.
History is replete with instances of what was harshly meted out to many who had opposed the PNC, the dominant Party in the current APNU/AFC coalition Government.
Given the historical reality, one may be tempted to ask if that explains the noticeable silence from sections of civil society on the matter of the Attorney General allegedly heightening tension through his utterances. Aside from the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), there is little being said about this particular issue.
The disparity cannot be missed: a former President was charged for condemning racism, while a leading official is seemingly stoking fears and heightening tension unreservedly.
Importantly, it should be asked if the Attorney General was in either case speaking in his personal capacity or echoing the Government’s position. Up to this point, the Government has not refuted his utterances.
It should be noted that, not too long ago, the Minister of State publicly rejected the CCJ’s jurisdiction, claiming it cannot rule for Guyana, since the country has its own independent laws. Very swiftly, the PNC’s General Secretary, who is also the Government’s Chief Whip, refuted the Minister’s statement.
One is therefore left to assume that the Attorney General’s position may be that of the PNC and the Government. If that’s the case, then there is tremendous cause for worry, since the Government is expected to safeguard the wellbeing of the citizenry. By extension, the Government reportedly warning of “dire consequences” and being unable to calm its supports within a short space of time does not offer much reassurance for the impending and critical elections.
The country’s hard-fought democracy is seemingly under severe threat, especially since passage of the NCM. The voices of all are therefore needed to safeguard it. If deaf ears and blind eyes will be turned to the disparity noted, then hypocrisy will prevail. Maybe it already does on one side.