Taking Power in Guyana

PPP/C must seize the day

by James Tweedie

Guyanese caretaker president David Granger still refuses to admit defeat in elections almost four months ago. But the winning People’s Progressive Party/Civic seems reluctant to force a transition of power, despite the support of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

Last week the GECOM chair, former justice Claudette Singh, finally declared the PPP/C and its president-elect Dr Irfaan Ali the winners on the basis of a recount held weeks after the March 2 election.

In doing so she rejected Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield’s ‘summary of observations report’ that sought to invalidate some 60 per cent of the 460,000 ballots cast.

Lowenfield’s report backed debunked claims of voter fraud by officials from the APNU+AFC coalition that is dominated by Granger’s People’s National Congress party.

Granger’s victory over sitting PPP/C president Donald Ramotar in 2015 was marred by vote-rigging allegations, and that the PNC used ballot fraud and emergency powers to hold onto power from 1968 to 1992.

Following Singh’s ruling, APNU promptly switched tack from claiming fraud to ensuring last Thursday’s GECOM meeting to declare the result would be inquorate.

Two of the three government-nominated commission members failed to attend the meeting without explanation. For the commission to be quorate, two members appointed by the president and two by the opposition must be present. Lowenfield also failed to attend and report the final vote tally as he is required to.

However, article 226 of the constitution states that if the meeting is still inquorate after being adjourned for two days, on the third day it can go ahead without that quorum. But legal moves prevented that from happening.

That same Thursday, a motion was heard at the Court of Appeal on behalf of Eslyn David, a resident of the Sophia district of the capital Georgetown, to prevent GECOM from declaring the result.

Dr Ali called Ms David an “APNU proxy”, while the pro-PPP/C iNews Guyana said she was an APNU “supporter.” Whether she is or not, the court has since ruled that it has jurisdiction over the matter, which APNU+AFC celebrated.

On Monday the appeals court interpreted section 177 (2) (b) of the Guyanese constitution to mean that the party with the most “valid” votes shall be declared the winner – resurrecting the vote-rigging claim yet again.

The PPP/C then appealed to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the judicial arm of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) regional bloc of English-speaking nations.

CARICOM’s outgoing and incoming Chairpersons, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Ralph Gonsalves, PM of St Vincent and the Grenadines, have both urged Granger to accept defeat.

But yesterday the CCJ restrained GECOM from declaring the result until a second hearing set for July 1 – four months on from polling day.

This reversal of fortune at the hands of the CCJ’s panel of judges highlights the perils of going to court for that which is rightfully yours in the first place – it might just hand it over to those trying to rob you.

Guyana’s neighbour Venezuela has made a similar gamble with stakes of £800 million pounds of national gold reserves held by the Bank of England.

The UK government effectively seized the bullion as part of its support – alongside the EU and US – for opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s baseless claim to the presidency over elected socilaist President Nícolas Maduro.

The Central Bank of Venezuela went to the High Court in London this week, not to demand the return of its rightful property but for them to be transferred to the UN Development Fund to buy “healthcare equipment, medicines and basic foodstuffs” for the South American nation.

The Bank of England’s case is that it is “caught in the middle” between the legitimate Venezuelan authorities and Guaidó’s “ad hoc” board. But who’s to say the High Court won’t just hand the fortune over to Guaidó’s gang of putschists in Washington?

The PPP/C, the movement that led Guyana to independence in the 1950s and 60s, won the election fair and square. The Washington-based Organisation of American States said yesterday GECOM already has “a result based on the valid votes cast” and “this election has gone on long enough.”

Yet both hesitate to act decisively and end this crisis that threatens to return their country to the bad old days.

Guyana: Waiting for Granger to Go

Democracy delayed is democracy denied

by James Tweedie

Today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of Guyanese revolutionary writer Walter Rodney, a crime his family still believe was ordered by then prime minister Forbes Burnham.

Three months – and a ballot recount – after the March 2nd general election, Burnham’s People’s National Congress (PNC) still refuses to cede power to the winning People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) that led Guyana’s liberation from colonial rule.

Opposition voters have likened the situation to the quarter-century of elections rigged in favour of the PNC following the South American country’s independence from Britain in 1966.

Despite the recount showing a narrow victory for the PPP/C, President David Granger is still squatting in the State House in the capital Georgetown at the head of an interim government.

Granger’s PNC, founded by Burnham after he split from Cheddi Jagan’s PPP in 1958, leads the APNU coalition that narrowly won the 2015 election amid allegations of vote-rigging.

Later that year, Granger halted a commission of inquiry into Rodney’s killing, launched in 2014 by PPP/C president Donald Ramotar.

PPP/C leader and unofficial president-elect Dr Irfaan Ali told the country in a Thursday broadcast that his party stood ready to reverse the economic downturn afflicting all sectors of the economy – especially sugar, Guayana’s main export.

Ali said his government “will ensure the productive sector gets back going, to have the right mix of incentives and measures …to bring back energy to the economy, to reignite construction and to rebuild confidence in Guyana.

Ali condemned Granger for refusing the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s May 15 request for a government bailout.

“The sugar sector is not on the verge of collapsing any more, but is now in total financial chaos, the government has announced that there is no money for the industry.”

Ali accused Granger of squandering nearly £400 million of public money during his term. “The Government has basically overspent $100 billion, which resulted in the domestic debt skyrocketing and has led to a large fiscal deficit,” he said.

In 2016, Granger allowed ExxonMobil to drill for oil in territorial waters off the western Essequibo region, a territory claimed by Venezuela since the 19th century.

But Guyana’s corruption watchdog the State Assets Recovery Agency launched a probe into the contracts last year, a move former president Ramotar supported. The PPP/C has pledged to make sure Guyana’s oil wealth benefits all its people.

The Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) continues to delay the official announcement of the result, resisting calls by the Commonwealth, Organisation of American States (OAS) and regional bloc CARICOM.

In 2017 the PPP/C protested after Granger broke the 1992 agreement, brokered by former US president Jimmy Carter, for the sitting president to accept opposition nominations to Gecom.

This week News Room Guyana interviewed six PPP/C voters who APNU election agent Anna Ferguson claimed were out of the country on election day – a claim the workers, farmers and fishermen denied.

One of them, pump operator Hemant Vivikanan, does not even own a passport. He said the accusation reminded him of the stolen elections of the 70s and 80s – and lamented that his children witnessed the same fraud in their lifetimes.

Last weekend Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland, a former British attorney general, said her office “continues to pay close attention to the electoral process in Guyana and commends the people of Guyana for their patience during the recount process.”

Meanwhile APNU General Secretary Joseph Harmon rejected the OAS election report’s statement that “the people of Guyana have been patient and they now deserve a peaceful transition of Government based on the majority vote,” calling it “interference” and hoping CARICOM would back Gecom.

But Ralph Gonsalves, the new CARICOM chair and prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said on Thursday that the bloc “will not stand idly by and watch the recount which was properly done… be set aside.

“CARICOM is not going to tolerate anyone stealing an election.”

Gonsalves advised Granger: “If you lose, as Sir Arthur [Lewis] said, ‘take your licks like a man’.”

Lewis was the St Lucian-born economist who served as an advisor to Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, drawing up the West African nation’s first five-year economic plan in 1957. He later served as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank.

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