A power struggle at this time will be disastrous for Guyana — Mohamed Hamaludin

A power struggle at this time will be disastrous for Guyana — MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

An intense drama is unfolding in Guyana, the former British colony on the northern shoulder of South America, where huge oil discoveries will transform the economy and propel its 750,000 citizens into an era of wealth.

The government of President David Granger, ruling with a thin majority, was stunned Dec. 21 after a member of a junior coalition partner backed a no-confidence vote in the first-ever such political development in the nation which was granted independence on May 26, 1966.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan navy menaced two oil exploration vessels doing work for ExxonMobil, the main oil company searching Guyana’s waters nearly 200 miles off the Essequibo region, escalating a border dispute more than a century old.                  

And Granger himself has been diagnosed with cancer, though he is well enough to be back at work.

The no-confidence vote could thrust the country back to the 1960s when violent clashes erupted between Guyanese of Indian and African descent seeking power as independence neared. Guyana has enjoyed decades of stability since then, with peaceful transfers of power through the ballot box despite allegations of vote-rigging by the Afro-Guyanese-dominated People’s National Congress (PNC) and widespread corruption by the Indo-Guyanese-dominated Peoples Progressive Party (PPP).

The political landscape changed three years ago when coalitions formed around the two parties and the PNC won the elections with the help of a handful of Indo-Guyanese politicians. Granger became president, with just a 33-32 majority in the 65-seat parliament. The PNC was buttressed by an alliance of two minor parties whose members included Charrandass Persaud, the parliamentarian who switched sides to back the non-confidence vote. The upshot is that elections for a new government must be held within 90 days.

“This is a constitutional process which can have favorable outcomes for the nation … There is no cause for alarm and there are no grounds for any form of disorder and we will continue to work to provide good government and deliver public services to the people and to work even more closely with the opposition,” Granger told the nation afterwards.

The PPP has two major grievances going into any new elections: the government’s handling of oil contracts and its decision to downsize the sugar industry which has suffered considerable losses but is the economic power base of the PPP and the action was seen by some as racially motivated. Thousands of sugar workers have been laid off, which the parliamentary opposition leader and former president Bharrat Jagdeo has implied influenced Persaud’s vote, Guyanese Online commentator Yvonne Sam reported. A PPP government is almost certain to reverse the decision to minimize the industry and probably subsidize it with petrodollars and also seek a better deal from the oil companies.

Adding to the uncertainty, Venezuela, whose government, mired in economic and political chaos, is probably hankering for an issue to distract attention from domestic woes. The United Nations has referred the border dispute, in which Venezuela is claiming two-thirds of Guyana’s 83,000 square miles, to the International Court of Justice but Venezuela announced it does not recognize the referral.

The United States sided with Guyana against Venezuela’s gunboat diplomacy, as did the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) economic and trading bloc which groups the English-speaking Caribbean. Brazil, pushing for close friendship with Guyana for more than 40 years, is also an ally.

Any prospect for fresh elections could nudge the PNC and the PPP into forming a coalition government. The parties came close to doing so in the 1970s during the euphoria that followed the Burnham government’s nationalization of the sugar and bauxite industries – which the then Marxist-oriented PPP had been calling for. But the initiative collapsed after the PNC objected to an article in the PPP’s Mirror newspaper that it deemed a breach of good faith.

Former PPP stalwart Ralph Ramkarran is among commentators who argue that the perennial narrow margins of electoral victory for either party means the electorate wants a national unity government and that multiparty democracy is unsuited for Guyana. (It could also be a reflection of the relative political strengths of the PNC and the PPP.) But chances of a coalition government to foster unity at home, manage the oil industry and present a united front against Venezuela took a hit on Sunday when Attorney General Basil Williams called on the speaker of the parliament, Barton Scotland, to reverse his acceptance of the no-confidence vote outcome.

Williams claimed the result was invalid because  the 33-32 margin was not enough and also that Persaud, who also holds Canadian citizenship, should not have been in parliament in the first place – although he has been there for three years supporting the government.

Scotland announced in parliament on Thursday, Jan. 3, that he won’t invalidate the vote, adding that the matter would be best settled in the courts, probably because of the constitutional questions which Williams raised. The government promptly filed a legal challenge in the High Court and pledged to go all the way to the Caribbean Court of Appeal, the court of last resort. This step was taken although Granger and his prime minister, Moses Nagamootoo, initially accepted the outcome.

Refusal to abide by the vote does not bode well for how this issue will eventually be settled. Jagdeo has asserted that the vote is final, adding ominously that any effort to overturn it would be resisted. His party boycotted the session of parliament at which the speaker gave his ruling. One key question which the courts will probably have to decide is this: If 34, and not 33, is the majority, how come the Granger administration has been able to govern for three years on a 33-32 split?

The power struggle is fraught with danger for the future and it will take clear heads in both the PNC and the PPP to keep Guyana on an even keel at this critical point in its history.

—–

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he write a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. It was revised to include new information available after it was published and the headline was changed to reflect that development. Hamaludin may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 4, 2019 at 11:43 am

    A brilliant and insightful essay by Mohamed Hamaludin

    – Hamaludin wrote:

    “The upshot is that elections for a new government must be held within 90 days.

    President Granger told the nation:

    “This is a constitutional process which can have favorable outcomes for the nation … There is no cause for alarm and there are no grounds for any form of disorder and we will continue to work to provide good government and deliver public services to the people and to work even more closely with the opposition.”

    Another source is reporting a meeting between the President and Leader of the Opposition is scheduled for January 9, 2019, at the Ministry of the Presidency

    This sounds, to me, like harmony in action … a second wind!

    Look: Our enemies are NOT within the borders of Guyana.

    This is worth repeating:

    “A Power Struggle at This Time Will Be Disastrous for Guyana”

  • Trevor  On January 5, 2019 at 2:27 am

    Badal & foreign investors will continue to construct the European high rises while we fight mattie like fools.

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