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I wish to discuss one or two constitutional issues that have been raised publicly and are still being contested. I have noticed, for example, that the learned Attorney General has pinpointed a constitutional office that has attracted the active attention of many since its origin in 1980. It is “the supreme executive authority”, one of the President’s functions, according to Article 89.
To my knowledge, no one has so far invoked this function in the Court, but the Attorney General has hinted that he may do so in the hearings concerning the Police Service Commission.
Over the last two years and certainly since March 2, 2020, the Courts have played a beneficial role in responding to constitutional disputes, wisely brought to them for settlement. In previous times, disputes of that nature had been processed, in the words of a Leader of the past by “other means.”
Before I enter upon the single conflict I wish to explore today, let me remind readers of the Hon. Attorney General’s concept of the times: “the victory of the PPP represents the triumph of Good over Evil.” I repeat this reminder because no one in high places has challenged the concept. Worse than that, it may represent the way the Hon. Attorney General expects things to unfold. The triumph of Good over Evil is a stage of human existence at which the efforts of mere humans can affect nothing and cannot change the destiny opened up by the triumph of Good over Evil.
Soon after August 2, 2020 when the PPP assumed office, the Hon. Leader of the Opposition described the incoming administration as “fraudulent.” The concept of fraud had also been applied by the PPP to entries in the spreadsheet used in the Region 4 count, entries not matching those in the source documents, the Statements of Poll. As older cases began to be withdrawn in the Magistrates Courts, I became aware that charges of fraud had been invoked against its opponents by the Coalition administration.
For the sake of history, I dare to recall that after the 2001 General Elections, the former President, Mr. Hoyte, led an active campaign against the just concluded elections which he described as “fraudulent.” It is recorded in my book – “The Morning After – that, as the campaign went on, Mr. Hoyte, an effective user of language in his messages, changed “fraudulent” into “flawdulent” and was not asked to explain the change.
There is another relevant experience previous to 2001. After the 1973 General Elections in which the electoral machinery declared the PNC winner by more than its own target of a 2/3 majority, the PPP’s leader, Dr. Jagan, and many other organisations labeled the results fraudulent. The PPP supported its rejection of the declared results by refusing to enter Parliament, so that its chosen MPs did not take the Oath of Office and were not entitled to be paid. Some three years after the 1973 General Elections, the PPP found itself being pressured by the international anti-imperialist movement in favour of the Guyana government. The PPP responded to these pressures by declaring “critical support” for the PNC government. The question of declaring that the PNC was the lawful government did not arise publicly.
The PPP entered into negotiations with the Government and returned to Parliament on conditions agreed upon between them. I leave these conditions to be stated and interpreted by the parties concerned. From this brief review, it is clear that by merely declaring the PPP administration to be fraudulent and stopping there, the present Leader of the Opposition has in no way obstructed the processes or machinery of government. According to exchanges reported in the media, the Leader of the Opposition has been requesting to be consulted by the President, in keeping with the Constitution. It is well known, and not contested, that without the prescribed consultations, a number of offices vital to good governance cannot be filled. Any doubt about this principle is unreasonable after the CCJ’s ruling and comments in 2020 on the issue of the appointment of a chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission. To say the least, the CCJ’s comments in effect called into question our political culture.
When President Irfaan Ali assumed office, especially as Guyana’s youngest President, many of us felt that there was a chance for the old garbage to be dumped. As is known, I had felt something like this when the PPP nominated Mr. Jagdeo to fill this important office. Even if I made the same mistake twice, I prefer to make that kind of misjudgment, rather than to fall into the rut of dismissing a younger generation. President Irfaan Ali, after taking the oath of office, declared that he saw himself as, and intended to be, everybody’s President. No previous President of Guyana had ever made such a declaration. It must have uplifted many.
While it is encouraging for the President to see himself as everybody’s President, he offends the letter and spirit of the Constitution, if and when he goes on to assume that he is everybody’s representative. Until it is altered negatively, the Constitution prescribes for representatives chosen by voters, whether “Good” or “Evil”, certain rules and functions outside of the discretion of the supreme executive authority. One of these prescriptions is the rule laid down for the Leader of the Opposition in the filling of certain vacancies by the President. Remember the CCJ’s remarks in 2020.
True, the President has not called on the Leader of the Opposition to make obeisance to him as victor in the General Elections of 2020. He has called for an open and formal acknowledgment of his victory. This call has no basis in the Constitution and it goes far beyond the excesses written into the Constitution, as imposed in 1980.