Guyana's tumultuous start to 2019

By Elizabeth Morgan

Thursday, January 03, 2019

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The use of adjectives such as “tumultuous” and “tempestuous” are not uncommon in describing events in the political and economic history of Guyana since the 1950s. One recent letter writer in the Guyana Stabroek News describes the country's politics as a soap opera. Notably, just one of the many currently playing out around the globe.

I wrote several articles in 2018 about the promise for both Guyana and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) of the oil finds made by ExxonMobil and the partnership offered by President David Granger to Caricom member states, anticipating that the promise of oil would be a positive turning point for Guyana and the region.

I, like others, had a reality check on December 22 when it was announced that Guyana's Government, formed by A Partnership for Unity (APNU), a coalition of several parties, and the Alliance for Change (AFC), had collapsed due to a no-confidence vote called by the Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo of the People's Progressive Party-Civic (PPP-Civic). The vote was 33 in favour and 32 against as — to the absolute consternation of the Government members — a disgruntled member of their coalition broke ranks and voted with the Opposition.

According to Guyana's Constitution, if a vote of no-confidence carries, elections must be held within 90 days, ie, before the end of March 2019. The Government had its wicket shattered by a vicious bouncer which it had not been prepared to play. Issues which have dogged Guyanese politics include lack of trust, corruption, arrogance, naiveté, race, all appear to have bubbled to the surface.

For the first time, apparently, Guyana is having to deal with a positive outcome in a no-confidence vote. The Government and its supporters are trying to gather their wits and determine how to deal with this calamitous development. Legal minds are now advising that an absolute majority should be 34 votes, and not 33, and counselling that the matter should be taken to court for a legal opinion.

The Attorney General has advised that the Speaker of the National Assembly erred in ruling that the no-confidence motion had carried. The Speaker is being urged the reverse his ruling. This would enable the Government to remain in office until 2020 when a general election is constitutionally due. The last election was held in 2015 when the APNU-AFC won by a meagre margin of one seat.

An opinion piece in the Demerara Waves on December 29 implored the Government to reject calls for its resignation and continue in office. In their view, the will of the people should not be bought and sold, and it is the Government's duty to protect Guyana's democracy. Meanwhile, Stabroek News, in its editorial on December 31, 2017, called for 'Enough of this Charade' stating that the Government should honour the no-confidence vote.

While everyone was reeling from the results of the no-confidence vote, the Venezuelan Navy launched a foray into Guyanese waters, interrupting work being done by ExxonMobil, which had recently announced additional oil finds offshore Guyana. This incursion brought back, front and centre, the ongoing territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, which claims a large section of Guyana in the mineral- rich territory of Essequibo. In spite of this, ExxonMobil has continued work offshore making further finds.

The Guyanese President David Granger, engaged in his own personal struggle with cancer, must now decide his Government's approach to the vote of no-confidence; endeavour to keep his coalition together; prepare for a possible general election; and continue to face off with the aggression from Venezuela in the diplomatic arena.

He is a military man and hopefully can strategise and fight battles on several fronts. In the struggle for power, the Opposition will not allow an easy passage.

This situation in Guyana is one to watch very carefully. It certainly appears that 2019 will be a very interesting year.

 

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade and politics. Send comments to the Observer or elizabethmorganstliz@gmail.com.


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