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Sunday, May 07, 2006

My column - by Adam Harris

The race to lead Guyana

Ever since the Guyana Elections Commission announced that it would not be able to have elections conducted by the August 4 deadline, there has been talk about a constitutional crisis. In fact, things reached the stage where the government and the opposition sat to work out a plan of action for the post-August 4 management of the country.

But even before all this, the various pundits were talking about a power-sharing arrangement in the interim between August 4 and the holding of elections but to its credit, the main opposition party announced that it was not interested in any power-sharing arrangement.

Both the government and the opposition put together a team of eminent lawyers with the proviso that each side would put forward two people who would examine and discuss the constitutional arrangement post August 4.

Things did not reach the discussion stage because the government found that it could amend Article 61 of the Constitution and avoid any crisis. It also found that it merely needed a simple majority in Parliament to effect the amendment.

Since then, the PNCR has threatened to move to the courts to challenge the amendment which merely gives the government one extra month to hold elections after the dissolution of Parliament. Instead of three months, the government can now hold elections four months after the dissolution of Parliament.

I am no expert on the constitution but as a reporter I was forced to pay keen attention. I kept hearing about the link between Article 61 and Article 69. When I checked Article 69, I found that it demanded that a new parliament be installed four months after the dissolution of the old one.

On Thursday, I asked President Bharrat Jagdeo about this. I noticed that unless he was prepared to hold elections on a Saturday or a Sunday he had no option but to hold elections on August 31 or September 1.

I then pointed to Article 69 and its stipulation, pointing out that according to that article, the new Parliament would have to be convened even as the elections are being held. To my mind, this would be the constitutional crisis that everyone feared.

President Jagdeo said that he could declare a state of emergency, reconvene Parliament, further amend Article 61 and everything would be alright except this would have nothing to do with Article 69.

The Head of State then said that he could invoke the doctrine of necessity in the same manner that Desmond Hoyte did in 1990. But I was still confused so I spoke with some other lawyers, all of whom concurred that there need not be a constitutional crisis.

One lawyer, Khemraj Ramjattan, said that the law does not encourage vacuums. He went on to say that Article 69 was merely a holding clause.

But why all this confusion? As far as I am concerned the elections are about to be held and the various political parties should be ready. The PPP/C said that it is and the PNCR said that it too is in the fields.

I am also wondering why people would rush to lead this country which is in the throes of serious crisis. To begin, if the current government loses office, the incoming government would be expected to turn the country around almost immediately and this is not going to be an easy task.

There are going to be people who would demand favours and no government would be able to do that. That being the case, people are going to get frustrated with the new government and claim that they are all the same thing.

What I do know is that these elections would not hinge on the race card. The census has revealed a significant decline in the Indian population vis a vis the other races. If the truth be told no political party can be confident of a clear Parliament majority at this time.

Freddie Kissoon keeps making the point that the East Indians in this country are disappointed with the present administration. I do not know whether he conducted a survey but if that is the case it is surely not being reflected in the wider society.

I keep hearing about the move by the Alliance for Change working to hold the balance of power in Parliament. And had it not been for the caveat that the party that wins the plurality at the polls naming the President, then the AFC could very well have demanded that one of its leaders be named president.

This is what happened with Dr Keith Mitchell. He won a solitary seat in his country's elections and since the others did not have a majority he demanded that whoever wanted his support to form the government should make him Prime Minister. The rest is history.

I also noticed that when the Trinidad Elections ended in a tie in 2003, Patrick Manning continued to hold office as Prime Minister. Basdeo Panday moved to the courts. Two days ago, the Privy Council vindicated Manning who went on to hold fresh elections six months later and won.

But through all that the people of Trinidad went about their daily lives. If we in Guyana could do likewise this country may stop its downward spiral.

Last week I did a column criticizing Dr Roger Luncheon for attempting to score political points by linking the PNCR to the Buxton gang, as he called the group. That column was inadvertently left out of the papers.

I will reproduce it some time this week because I feel that peace is the key to this country's survival. President Jagdeo said that he is prepared to join with any political leader in a public demonstration of unity that is the precursor of peace in this country. Whether this becomes a reality before the elections is anybody's guess.

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