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By Svetlana Marshall
Former Prime Minister and Mayor of the City of Georgetown, Hamilton Green said “dialogue” and “consensus” among the key players within the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition are critical as the Opposition manoeuvres through the challenges in settling issues regarding its leadership.
Three weeks after the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) – the major political party within the coalition – elected Political Scientist, Aubrey Norton, as it leader, its Central Executive Committee (CEC) wants him to take over the reigns as Leader of the Opposition from Joseph Harmon, who suffered a massive defeat during the PNCR’s 21st Biennial Delegates Congress last December.
But Green – a PNCR stalwart – said “a lot depends on negotiation.”
From the onset, Green, during an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, said the matter is constitutional in nature since the Office of the Leader of the Opposition is established under the Constitution of Guyana.
Under Article 110 of the Constitution, the Leader of the Opposition is elected, however, conditions for such a leader to be removed are outlined in Article 184.
According to that Article, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition shall become vacant if “the holder ceases to be a member of the Assembly for any cause other than the dissolution of Parliament; he is not a member of the Assembly when the Assembly first meets after the dissolution of Parliament” or “where one-third of the non-governmental members of the Assembly represent to the Speaker that the Leader of the Opposition no longer enjoys their confidence…”
But for Harmon to be recalled from Parliament in the absence of a vote of no-confidence, and replaced by Norton, it would require the involvement of the Leader of the List, in this case, former President David Granger – the immediate past Leader of the PNCR and the Chairman of the APNU+AFC Coalition or his Deputy Khemraj Ramjattan – the Leader of the AFC. Notably, Norton is not a Member of Parliament, though he is named on the Coalition’s List of Candidates/ Representatives.
That aside, Green was keen on pointing out that the Opposition comprises a number of political parties not just the PNCR. However, he acknowledged that within the coalition, the PNCR accounts for a large part of APNU. Any changes in the leadership of the Opposition would require consultation, particularly between the PNCR and the AFC, Green emphasized.
IS CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP NECESSARY?
Traditionally, the Leader of the Opposition is the same person as the Leader of the main political party in opposition, particularly in the case of the PNCR.
Notably, when Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham served as President of Guyana, he was also Leader of the PNCR. Similarly, when Desmond Hoyte served as President and later Opposition Leader he was also Leader of the PNCR. The situation was the same for Robert Corbin, who served as Opposition Leader, and former President David Granger.
“In this case, we have an unusual scenario where the Leader of the List is also the Leader of the Coalition, and he appointed Harmon as Leader of the Opposition,” Green pointed out while noting that this is the first time the Leader of the PNCR is not the Leader of the Opposition.
However, he believes that through consultation this “unusual” and “unique” situation can be resolved amicably.
“…it is a matter that has to be discussed in a civil manner, and we need to respect the wishes of the PNC, who identified Norton as the new leader, and he didn’t get it by a 51%, he got it by a substantive majority,” Green said.
Like Green, an official, speaking to Village Voice Newspaper under conditions of strict anonymity, said since the formation of the PNCR, its Leader is always the Leader of the Opposition, while in opposition.
“That has been so until at the end of the 2020 Elections when Mr. Granger decided to separate the two. He retained the position of Leader of the Party and he made Mr. Harmon Leader of the Opposition, that is the first time it has happened in the history of the PNC,” the official told this newspaper.
For him, it is only right for Norton to be both the Leader of the PNCR and Leader of the Opposition.
“It makes sense. It is logical for the Leader of the PNC to be Leader of the Opposition, after all, he is the person that has to guide and shepherd his members in the National Assembly,” he posited.
Emphasising that the PNCR forms a major part of coalition, the official said it would be difficult for Harmon to guide the Opposition Members of Parliament, in accordance with the policy decisions taken at the level of the party, when he is not seated on the Central Executive Committee.
“Mr. Harmon, to the best of my knowledge, is not a member of the Central Executive Committee of the PNC and as such he would not be privy or he will not be informed as to what debate and ideas are being promoted by the Central Committee or being discussed generally within the party,” the official reasoned.
Further, he submitted that the Leader of the PNCR should not only be Leader of the Opposition but also Leader of the List because in the absence of such, his authority as Leader would be considerably weaker.
But while the official underscored the importance of having a single individual hold the three positions, he, like Green, equally emphasised the need for consensus.
“The objective of making the Leader of the PNCR, both the Representative of the List and the Leader of the Opposition is a very important objective. The question as to how you go around obtaining that objective is just as important as the objective itself. You have to use careful diplomatic methods. You do not want to proceed in getting that objective attained by giving the public the impression that there is confusion and disunity in the People’s National Congress (PNC),” he made clear.
Norton, during a press conference on Friday, signaled his intention to speak with Harmon in the coming week, however, the official said it is equally important for the AFC and other political parties within the opposition to be consulted.
“He [Norton] has to discuss these matters with the coalition partners, in particular the AFC. There has to be a discussion. I don’t think you can ram this through,” he said while emphasising that the process has to be a carefully managed process to prevent any allegation of bullyism or the emergence of a “maximum leader.”
The best thing for the Leader of the PNC is to ensure that he has authority and the clout.
“…but it should not be done in any kind of way that would cause any kind of friction within the party or it gives the public, especially the PPP, the impression that the PNC is not unified in what it is trying to do,” the official emphasised.
Harmon has thus far resisted calls for him to step down from office, insisting that he has derived his mandate from APNU+AFC Coalition that contested the last general and regional elections.
“The main Parliamentary Opposition is the APNU+AFC coalition and consists of 31 Members of Parliament. The APNU Partnership has an established structure and if the executive of a party in the partnership has a position and they wish to express that position; they should follow the established procedures. The Office of the Leader of the Opposition is a constitutional office and is consequently governed by the constitution,” Harmon said in a statement on Friday.
However, PNCR Executive Vinceroy Jordan, who is also an APNU+AFC MP, said he is in full support of the position taken by the PNCR, explaining that it would allow for better leadership and representation in the National Assembly based on policy decisions arrived at, at the level of the PNCR CEC.
Opposition MP, Ganesh Mahipaul, who sits on the Central Executive Committee of the PNCR told the Village Voice Newspaper that is critical for both Harmon and Norton to engage in meaningful consultation to chart a way forward.
“The Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the PNCR should sit and amicably resolve the issue. I don’t see a need for an issue, I don’t see the need for there to be any public outcry or public demand from any side,” Mahipaul said.
Describing the PNCR as a “family,” he said the party extended a hand of partnership to its coalition partners. He said as a coalition, the APNU+AFC occupies 31 seats in the National Assembly, and collectively, it can resolve the “issue” in the best interest of the more than 217,000 persons who voted for coalition, and by extension the rest of Guyana.
“I believe that the ability of these political parties to continue to work together can be strengthened, and I am not in support of any position which states that the coalition MPs are weak. I believe we are a strong formidable force and we are holding the PPP accountable for their action by exposing gross misconduct, especially in the area of financial impropriety,” Mahipaul said.
He said if the PNCR and by extension the Opposition get it right, the coalition will be well poised to return to Government when the next General and Regional Elections are held.