The official results of the Local Government Elections (LGE) were finally announced by GECOM, and they confirmed what the PPP/C had declared a week ago: the PPP had won the popular vote with 61 per cent of votes cast, while APNU trailed far behind with 34 per cent and the AFC collected an insignificant 4 per cent.
Because the political parties had contested the LGE separately in their own names, it is not surprising that the vote is seen as a referendum on the performance of the incumbent PNC-led coalition.
The PPP/C then decided to file a “motion of no confidence” in the Government, paraphrasing the stark language set by the British House of Commons: ‘That this House has no confidence in the APNU+AFC Government’. In such motions, there is no need to state the reasons for placing them before the Legislature; the practice is an intrinsic aspect of Westminster-style Parliamentary governments.
The official House of Commons’ description of “no-confidence” motions quotes Rodney Brazier’s “Constitutional Practice, 2nd ed”: “The real significance of the general requirement that a Government retain the confidence of the House of Commons is not in the rare loss of a vote of confidence or in the somewhat more frequent legislative defeat, but rather that it obliges every Government to defend itself, explain its policies, and justify its actions to its own backbenchers, to the Opposition parties, and through them to the country as a whole.”
When filing the no-confidence motion, the PPP/C had insisted that it be given the highest priority, and had placed this responsibility on the Speaker of the National Assembly. In clarifying this latter point, the Clerk of the National Assembly released a statement which revealed that in the event that our National Assembly’s Standing Orders do not cover a particular point of order (as, in this case, who controls the timing of the debate on a no-confidence motion) the said Standing Orders instruct that the practice from the British House of Commons be followed. He then quoted from the authoritative Erskine May, Parliamentary Practice, 23rd edition, 2004, as did the House of Commons itself in the aforementioned definition of no-confidence motions:
“From time to time, the Opposition puts down a motion on the paper, expressing lack of confidence in the Government, or otherwise criticising its general conduct. By established convention, the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of a motion tabled by the official Opposition which, in the Government’s view, would have the effect of testing the confidence of the House. In allotting a day for this purpose, the Government is entitled to have regard to the exigencies of its own business, but a reasonably early day is invariably found…”
From this statement, the Clerk averred that it is the Government, rather than the Speaker, that sets the date for the debate. For us in Guyana, this is unfortunately a moot issue, since the actions and decisions of the incumbent Speaker have never — not on a single issue, no matter how contentious — taken a position against the Government.
The PNC-led Government, to its credit, did not question the right of the Opposition to call for the no-confidence vote, even though PM Moses Nagamootoo questioned its propriety in light of President Granger’s unfortunate illness. He appeared not to appreciate that the fortunes and fate of the Government that is in charge of the state demand that the representatives of the people look beyond personal challenges in favour of the greater good.
But as for the timing, which the Government insists must be after the Budget Debate, it is unfortunate that the Clerk did not include the rest of the paragraph from Erskine May:
“This convention is founded on the recognised position of the Opposition as a potential Government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment.”
Why is the Government dodging?