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Op-Ed: The Atlanta Harbinger

Last week I wrote the following of the People’s National Congress (PNC): “A party that is born and bred with that mentality can only stay in power through rigged elections, because its ideas and philosophy do not permit it to deliver goods and services to an electorate.

Therefore, its very survival depends upon something other than dispassionate and objective popular support from the masses. Race and ethnicity have been and will continue to be the source of sustenance of the PNC. Rigged elections is the only vehicle through which such a party can access and remain in government. Once elections are democratic, the PNC will be out of Government, as night follows day. Needlesstosay, once tribal and racial politics end in Guyana, the PNC is bound to die a natural death.”

A mere few days after, President David Granger, as leader of the PNC addressed the party’s 5th Biennial Conference of the PNC – North American Region, a private political event in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of what the President said must have raised the eyebrows of every sensible Guyanese. It is obvious that the President felt that he was speaking in confidence to a closed PNC grouping and therefore lowered his guard. I doubt that he expected his remarks to reach the media.
After pledging his firm commitment to the ideals of Forbes Burnham, the President is quoted as saying: “I think that they are several questions that you have to ask yourself as you look to the future. You have to ask yourself how the PNC gained office in 1964. Ask yourself how the PNC remained in office and what it did to do so. Ask yourself how the PNC regained office in 2015, and ask yourself how would the PNC retain office in 2020. These are big questions.”

They certainly are.

abolition of the Privy Council

It is important that we contextualize these questions against the backdrop of the President’s commitment to Forbes Burnham’s ideals. When read, contextually, the message is clear. What does a commitment to Forbes Burnham mean in realpolitik? For what was Mr. Burnham most famous or infamous in a political context? Rigged elections, undemocratic, authoritarian rule, a readiness to resort to violence in respect of political opponents (the assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney), emasculating independent constitutional institutions like the Judiciary by virtue of the doctrine of party paramountcy, which made the PNC the most paramount institution in the state, with all other institutions, including the Judiciary, being subservient to it; the flying of the party’s flag above the national flag in the compound of the country’s highest court at the time and the abolition of the Privy Council from Guyana’s legal system – are just a few political attributes and events that quickly come to mind. So in the context of the acquisition and retention of political power, it is evident in my view, that it is these attributes and events to which the President is not only making reference but is also committing himself.

Let us examine some of the questions posed by the President to his audience. How did the PNC gain office in 1964? The Cheddi Jagan Administration of the early 1960s was virtually brought to its knees by racially motivated violent disturbances. It is in this environment and through a farcical coalition with the United Force (UF) – which lasted less than 4 years – and through assistance via imperialists’ intervention, that the PNC gained power in 1964. The events of this period are well documented and ought to be beyond the pale of controversy for the objective analyst.
How did the PNC retain power from 1964 -1992? It rigged every election from 1968 -1985. The first democratic elections held in post-independent Guyana, was held on October 5, 1992. The PNC lost those elections. Again, these events cannot be seriously questioned.

unilateral appointment of Chairman of GECOM

How did it gain power in 2015? It did so through another coalition, the terms of which are contained in the Cummingsburg Accord, which the PNC has violated in multiple ways. The other major contestant in the 2015 elections contends that those elections were tainted by many irregularities and malpractices and that the results finally declared by the Chief Elections Officer do not reflect the will of the electorate. In this regard, an elections petition has been filed challenging the legality of those elections. Like in 1964, many on both sides of the political divide and in civil society are of the firm view that external assistance was also rendered in those elections to oust the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) from office.

In my view, having acquired political power, the President is, essentially, charging his audience with what needs to be done for the PNC to stay in power by asking them to reflect on how Burnham and the PNC retained power in the past. The answer is clear. It was through Burnhamism – rigged elections, undemocratic and authoritarian rule.

Repeatedly, over the past two and a half years I have been highlighting this Administration’s descent into authoritarianism. We have witnessed disrespect and abuse of the Judiciary, manipulations of recommendations coming from the Judicial Service Commission, executive interference with independent constitutional commissions, interference with and sidelining of the office of the DPP and the Guyana Police Force, the use of politically influenced SOCU to carry out investigations which should be done by the Guyana Police Force, the hiring of special prosecutors who are handpicked and are closely connected to the Administration without the authority of the DPP, the handpicking of auditors to do forensic audits without the authority of the Auditor General and perhaps the most egregious of them all, the unilateral and unconstitutional appointment of a Chairman of GECOM, who has admittedly lied about his qualifications.

By the undemocratic appointment of Mr. James Patterson, the President has laid a solid foundation. In his speech, he has expressed his intentions and issued his charge. It is now up to the people of this country whether they will sit idly by and allow democracy to be slaughtered, or they will do that which is lawfully necessary to halt the descent into political dictatorship.

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