By Jasminee Sahoye
A new political reality has been created just three months before Guyanese head to the polls on May 11 for national and regional elections.
The Valentine’s Day announcement of the two opposition parties in the National Assembly joining forces to contest the upcoming general elections on a single list of candidates caught many by surprise.
Guyana has used the proportional representation system since it gained independence on May 26, 1966, from British rule. The last general election was in November 2011. The constitutional term of a government is five years.
Guyana President Donald Ramotar prorogued Parliament in November because his government was facing a non-confidence motion from the opposition. His government continued spending without the normal checks and balances a sitting House imposes.
Political commentators say this new move by the two parties was expected given that for the first time the vote split resulted in a minority government in the House. The two opposition parties – A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance for Change (AFC) – controlled 33 of the 65 seats in the National Assembly, causing a number of frustrations for the governing party, the People’s Progressive Party / Civic (PPP/C).
Guyanese in Toronto, around the world and Canada have been sharing their thoughts on social media on the bold step taken by the opposition parties and what this could mean to the ruling PPP/C.
The general opinions expressed on Twitter and Facebook are that this coalition could mean a change in the way the country has been governed since it became independent almost 49 years ago. Many expressed hope the elections will be peaceful, free and fair. Some have publicly endorsed the new coalition.
Supporters of the PPP/C appear confident the party can win as it has turned around the country after defeating the People’s National Congress (PNC) almost 24 years ago.
The PNC later changed to PNC Reform. In the 2011 general elections, PNC Reform joined forces with the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), a party that’s declined since the death of its leader, Dr. Walter Rodney, but which has still survived. The National Front Alliance and the Guyana Action Party contested the elections and won 26 seats.
Prior to joining forces with AFC, which was headed by a former PPP member and a former PNC member, APNU teamed up with another small party, Justice for All Party, (JFAP) founded by popular TV station owner Chandra Narine Sharma. His son, Jaipaul Sharma, said his party has no demands or expectations of the partnership outside of unseating the incumbent PPP/C in the upcoming elections.
In a joint statement, known as the Cummings Accord, APNU leader and former Guyana Defence Force Brigadier General David Granger said “This is a historic and watershed political development for our country as this new electoral alliance moves to put Guyana on the correct path with all Guyanese, (who) regardless of ethnicity can feel fully motivated to be proud with his or her nation and afforded the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to society while successfully caring for themselves and family. These discussions were not easy.”
Granger said APNU will nominate a presidential candidate and the AFC will nominate a prime ministerial candidate. AFC is assured of 12 seats in the National Assembly. If they win, APNU will be allocated one vice president and the AFC two vice presidents, both of whom will be cabinet members.
“The president as head of state head of government, commander of the armed forces, will have responsibilities for constitutional agencies,” Granger noted, adding “The parties agreed that cabinet position will be allocated on a 60/40 basis between the APNU and AFC, respectively.”
Both the representatives of the list and the speaker of the House will be mutually selected by both parties from independent members from civil society.
He also pledged to lead the country into a new dawn of national development, transparent governance and full accountability.
Long time PPP supporter, Attorney Moses Nagamootoo, who served under the party’s founding leader, the late Cheddi Jagan, has been named the coalition’s prime ministerial candidate.
“We have a dream; it is a dream that was planted in the ball field in Whim when we were boys (referring to himself and Granger, both of whom attended the same primary school in Whim, Berbice). We thought that Guyana deserves better. That dream could be realised.”
Nagamootoo added “There will be no discrimination, no recrimination, no vendetta. No one has anything to fear, no one has anything to lose.”
Social media comments from former party comrades have not been kind to Nagamootoo, calling him a traitor.
The general secretaries of APNU and AFC are compiling strategies to launch their election campaign.
Some analysts say Ramotar’s use of prorogation was unprecedented as it has anti-democratic facets and saw it as a patent attempt to avoid an opposition non-confidence motion likely to bring down the government and trigger fresh elections. Without parliamentary approval, analysts say spending of public funds during the prorogation period will be a major issue.
Government officials said, however, that prorogation was to permit further talks between the government and the opposition on a parliamentary agenda.