The results of the general elections of 1997 were not accepted by the then Opposition. That refusal led to prolonged, massive street protests and in the process, violence was unleashed on many citizens and some properties burnt. The ensuing instability heightened tension and fear, businesses and the national economy almost ground to a halt, and the country’s progress set back.
The Opposition, which was pellucid that the elections were fraudulent despite the contrary as expressed by observers, maintained that the then Government would not be recognized. Its actions to make the country ungovernable were therefore not by coincidence, but deliberate means to have the Government demit office.
The situation worsened as time progressed and Guyana’s post-election violence made international headlines, tarnishing the country’s image in the process. The Government maintained that it was democratically elected and that the Opposition, with a history of such actions, was attempting to take the seat of power by illegal means.
The Opposition refused to relent and allow constitutional and democratic processes to work. Turning a blind eye to the negative consequences its actions were having on the country and people at the time, it seemed obsessed with its intention of being the Government. As the stalemate continued and as fear and uncertainty swirled, the Opposition made demands for external intervention, which resulted in Caricom establishing a commission to help resolve the impasse.
As months went by, the commission derived the Herdmanston Accord which both sides signed in acceptance, willingly or unwillingly. That Accord instructed an agreement from the Government to reduce its five-year constitutionally-mandated term in office to three years and fresh elections be held two years before legally due.
The context of that is without any semblance of ambiguity. Simply put, a democratically elected Government was made to reduce its term in office after deliberately orchestrated and sustained acts by the Opposition to render the country unstable and ungovernable; their wishes seemingly realized by Caricom’s intervention and presence.
The Government in question was the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) and the Opposition, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR). It’s worthwhile to note that the elections in 2001, which followed 1997 as per the accord, were not without violence. Having, again, not wanting to accept that the PPPC had won, street protests were mounted with inevitable consequences.
Not to be forgotten, on January 12, 1998, the Court ruled in favour of the PPPC regarding the outcome of the 1997 elections. On that now infamous day, many Guyanese, predominantly of one ethnic group, were beaten, robbed and molested. That incident led to a private group conducting an inquiry with documented evidence from many victims.
The main takeaway: the unmistakable trait of a political entity unwilling to invoke destabilizing mechanisms when its desire is not fulfilled, even if fulfilment would contradict democratic norms leading to negative consequences and a seeming lack of intent to conform to the rule of law.
While in Opposition during 2011-2015, it began the process of bringing a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against the then Donald Ramotar administration. In the act of doing so, it boasted of its clear understanding of the constitutional procedures of a successful NCM. Armed with its combined one-seat majority of 33 against 32, it knew the threatened NCM would be successful, that the Government would have fallen and fresh elections to be held with the constitutionally mandated 90-day period.
Cognizant of that, Ramotar prorogued Parliament as he was constitutionally allowed. Of utmost importance was the fact the then Opposition knew that a majority of one vote was all that was needed to topple the Government; 33 out of 65. Now in Government and with an NCM successfully passed against it as upheld by the Speaker, it found all excuses to claim that 33 is not a majority of 65 and as such the NCM was invalid.
That’s a wholesale and convenient contradiction of what it boasted of previously. Its preposterous arguments were knocked down by the High Court, upheld by 2:1 in the Appeal Court and knocked down again by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Even in the face of the CCJ’s ruling while awaiting the consequential orders, there has been no genuine attempt to implement the constitutional procedures that follow a successful NCM.
From all appearances, it is consumed with efforts to remain in office despite what the Constitution and Court rulings mandate. To try and “justify” its actions, it protested against itself for House-to-House registration, thereby defying the 90-day period for fresh elections and constitutional provisions to accommodate eligible voters.
Its continued defiance is not only unimaginable but extremely worrisome in the context of its own history of being reluctant to accept electoral defeat and abide by the rule of law. That is aside from conveniently dumping its own position while in the Opposition a few years ago.
As it is, fear and uncertainty prevail and business seems at a standstill. The related consequences are obvious and not totally dissimilar to previous times in the country’s history. Given that history, a very pertinent and probably sensitive question would be; what if the PPP had done what the Government has regarding the successful passage of the NCM? Another maybe; where is Caricom now?