The joint statement of the high-level meeting between the government and the opposition has dampened the public enthusiasm which followed the initial comments by the President and the Leader of the Opposition at the conclusion of the engagement. The joint statement, belatedly issued, confirms that not much common ground was found between the two leaders.
In fact, the joint statement reads more like the minutes of the engagement rather than what one expects of a joint statement. It merely confirms that very little agreement was had between the two sides, except for them to approach GECOM on its readiness for elections.
Nothing was said about both sides engaging in enhanced political cooperation and how they would both participate in running the country over the next three months. The meeting essentially showed both sides digging in their heels and holding firm to their previously expressed positions.
As far as the government is concerned, it does not see a diminution of its powers. Neither did it indicate that it would abide by the Constitution, which calls for the Cabinet to resign and for elections in 90 days. The government’s position is that the government remains in office with full powers, since public services have to be provided and public order maintained.
In fact, the President made it clear that the Constitution does not state anything which limits the government’s powers. On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition, asserted that the government remains in office only with limited powers.
The government is clearly ignoring the implications of a no-confidence motion. The passage of the motion demonstrates that the National Assembly has lost confidence in the government and therefore the government is obligated to resign and call elections. By refusing to resign, the President and the Cabinet are frustrating the implications of the Constitution and of constitutional conventions.
The Cabinet should have resigned and should have called elections. Notwithstanding this, there has to be a government in place to provide public service and maintain public order, and therefore the government has to remain in place until a new one is elected.
This may seem as an anomalous situation, but it is not. It is no different from a Prime Minister resigning after the passage of a no-confidence motion, but his government remaining in place to prepare for elections, as was the case in Britain in 1979 when the James Callaghan government fell because of a one-vote majority.
The issue is not whether the government remains in place. The Opposition is not denying this. What it is denying is what it should be allowed to do in the circumstances.
If the provisions of Article 106 (6) are complied with, it means that elections must be called and all that follows should ensue: that parliament is prorogued, which means no new legislation can be passed. Constitutional conventions then kick in, in terms of how the government is limited. The government should not sign any major agreements during their period.
The Cabinet’s refusal to accept that it has to resign makes a mockery of the Constitution and allows it to operate in a manner that makes the no-confidence motion redundant.
The major agreement which emerged out of the meeting is that both sides agreed to jointly approach the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to determine its readiness for the holding of elections. Both sides had nominated commissioners to GECOM and therefore ought to be fully aware of the state of readiness of the elections body.
GECOM also held elections just two months ago. There were no major hitches in those elections, and particularly, no problem with the electoral roll. Monies are available for the holding of elections. Why then should GECOM not be ready for elections within 90 days?
The writing is on the wall as to what is going to happen? The government will continue to operate as usual. Elections are not going to be held within 90 days and the court case will drag on for months until a new registration process takes place which will run to the end of the original life of the government, which is 2020. For all intents and purposes, the intended effect of the no-confidence motion would be nullified.
Guyana will once again be a seen as constitutional pariah in the Caribbean. Already, one former Prime Minister has expressed reservations as to the precedent which is likely to be set should the crisis in Guyana not be resolved in accordance with democratic traditions. It is bitterly ironic that the Guyana government recently voted in the Organization of American States to not recognize the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government at a time when its own legitimacy is being questioned.
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