In the matter of Speaker:
Is the leadership of APNU up to job ahead?

By Harry Thakur Hergash

Guyana Journal, January 2012

In a letter captioned “The election results provide a great opportunity for the parties to work together in the national interest” in the Stabroek News of December 30, 2011, I wrote: “For APNU, Mr. Granger [Leader of APNU] needs to quickly assert his leadership and keep his members in line.” Developments within recent weeks have demonstrated clearly that there is a lack of effective leadership in the APNU and this may be starting to hurt the credibility of this party.

In the first place, APNU was highly critical of GECOM's Chairman, Dr. Surujbally, for the delay in declaring the results of the recent national elections, a delay caused by the necessity to ensure accuracy of the results, according to Dr. Surujbally, who has a legal responsibility in this regard. APNU's leadership, after making a major issue of the SOPs and then having been in possession of copies for several weeks for their own verification, now appears to be dithering in declaring their findings. Noteworthy is Dr. Roopnarine's recent statement that “we [APNU] are not likely to conclude with anything that is overly dramatic in relation to the findings.”(APNU not expecting anything 'overly dramatic' from S0Ps review, Stabroek News, January 6, 2012)

As Guyanese reflect on this matter and on the effectiveness of GECOM's managing of the elections, it is worth noting that elections, even in the world's foremost democracies such as the USA, Canada, and the UK, with long established democratic traditions, are not without glitches and issues. In fact, many will recall the fiasco in the mighty USA over the 2000 Presidential election when the final results were not known until a month after voting day and then, only after several recounts before the courts finally made a declaration that George Bush was the winner, leaving Al Gore, his opponent, to concede.

In Guyana, every head of GECOM or its predecessor body since 1992 has been the subject of criticism and, with the exception of 2006, every national election since 1992 has been followed by protests from the opposition. In 2002, GECOM was headed by the highly respected General Joe Singh who can in no way be considered a “political partisan”; yet the election was followed by protests and marches.

Since 1992, every Chairperson of GECOM has come with impeccable credentials and, in fact, on recommendation from the Minority Leader, to take on a thankless job. These individuals have performed creditably in a very divisive and contentious environment. GECOM and its Chairperson can only act on matters that are within their scope of responsibility. If politicians are unhappy with the composition and/or the mandate of GECOM, then they should act in parliament to bring about change. It is time that they live up to their responsibility instead of every five years, blaming their failures on GECOM.

Next is the matter of the list of APNU Members of Parliament that has not been finalized now more than a month after the elections. This does not reflect well on a party that hotly criticized GECOM Chairman Surujbally for a three-day delay in declaring the election results. It is hard to compare the onerous responsibility of GECOM's Chairman regarding declaration of the results with that of a party leader to provide a list of his members who will sit in parliament. This delay is an obvious embarrassment for a party that is headed by a former General of the GDF and a Deputy leader who is a Guyana scholar and of high regard in the academic world.

Then there is the matter of Speaker of parliament. After the AFC proposed Mr. Moses Nagamootoo for the Speaker's position, Stabroek News of December 30, 2011, (Granger says Nagamootoo not best person for Speaker) reported Mr. Granger as saying that Mr. Nagamootoo is not the best person for Speaker. This is a strange position to take especially if we are to believe Stabroek News report of January 6, 2012 (Speaker rotation floated) which states: “She [Ms. Cathy Hughes of the AFC] said that at the beginning of talks between the two parties [AFC and APNU], APNU did not have a problem with Nagamootoo as a potential Speaker.”

Subsequently, after the AFC held firm on Mr. Nagamootoo as Speaker, Dr. Roopnarine, Deputy Leader of APNU, is reported (Stabroek News of January 7, 2012 – APNU open to Nagamootoo in Speaker rotation) as saying that APNU would be willing to work with anyone that the AFC is proposing for the post of Speaker in a rotational arrangement, even if that person is Moses Nagamootoo. This is obviously a “flip-flop” on the earlier position of Mr. Granger that Nagamootoo is not the best person for Speaker, a position that demonstrated poor political acumen.

Finally is the matter of the street protests by the youth arm of APNU. Generally, I see nothing wrong with street protests, as long as they are peaceful and do not infringe on the rights of others; and, so far, these certainly are peaceful. The problem is that the reason for the protest seems to be changing from week to week and there is no specific focus, reaching an untenable situation recently when a protest march was planned against the AFC, a party that holds the balance of power in parliament and which is still in discussion with APNU. This so angered the AFC that Mr. Ramjattan stated, (Stabroek News, January 2, 2012, AFC holds fast to choice of Nagamootoo as Speaker) “The AFC especially Ramjattan is not going to be bullied by any youth section. As a matter of fact I regard this kind of tactic as totally uncalled for at this stage and it can only anger the AFC to walk out of talks from the APNU.” Mr. Ramjattan then went on to say, “Quite frankly, I feel that they should come off the streets.” Is this not reminiscent of the PNC's negotiating strategy against the newly formed Jagdeo Government in 2001?

Mr. Granger, as leader of the major opposition party, will become the Minority Leader in parliament. Under the British parliamentary system which to some extent applies in Guyana, the Leader of the Minority (Opposition) is seen as the Head of government in waiting. At this time of a “hung' parliament in Guyana, another election could come about at any time. Guyanese may now be pondering the question: “Is the leadership of APNU up to job ahead?”

Editor's note: Since this was written and received (January 10), Raphael Trotman was selected as Speaker, with opposition from the PPP.
Expectations for the 2011 National Elections in Guyana