It is utter trite to describe a no-confidence motion as an act of treason. It gets more galling when a foreign government is being accused of conspiring to remove the government simply because it provided a service, which it is duty bound to provide, to one of its citizens.
There is nothing illegal, treasonous or unusual about a no-confidence motion. The no-confidence mechanism, inserted into Guyana’s constitution with the support of both the PNCR and the PPPC, is a lawful, legitimate and democratic means of holding a government accountable to the legislative assembly.
It allows for the resignation of the Cabinet which no longer enjoys the support of the legislative assembly. A government can be lawfully removed either by elections or by the votes of those whom the people elected to represent their interests. The no-confidence motion is therefore a means by which a government is held accountable for its actions.
No-confidence motions are a feature of the Westminster political system. Governments may be required to demonstrate that they enjoy the confidence of the legislature. Governments which do not enjoy the support of the legislative assembly can be brought down, legally and democratically by a no-confidence motion.
In such cases, it is the Cabinet which has to resign collectively. The Cabinet is bound by the principle of collective responsibility to the National Assembly. That is, they “swim together or sink together”. Therefore, if a government no longer enjoys the confidence of the assembly, it is the Cabinet which has to resign; and notwithstanding that resignation, the government stays in office until elections are held and a new government elected.
The APNU+AFC had decided to bring down the PPPC government by means of a no-confidence motion in 2014. The then President Donald Ramotar, aborted that attempt by proroguing parliament, a power which was within his constitutional remit but which without calling elections immediately was deemed to be not consistent with a democratic ethic. International pressure was brought to bear on Ramotar who was forced to call elections within five months of the aborted non-confidence motion.
The no-confidence motion is not a legislative coup. A coup is an unlawful usurpation of power. There has been no such maneuver in Guyana.
Treason involves overthrowing a government, an unlawful act not provided for by the Constitution, the law or democratic tradition. A no-confidence motion is not a means of overthrowing a government. It is a means of holding governments accountable. It is lawful and democratic.
In Latin America, the legislative arm, in recent times, has been used to impeach Presidents, rather than remove their governments. At least two sitting Presidents have been so impeached in recent times. In one of those cases – involving President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay – the heads of Latin American governments deemed it a legislative coup not because impeachment was unconstitutional but because of the inadequacy of the time provided to Lugo to offer a defence against the charges made against him. Lugo was given a mere two hours. Impeachment of a President has never happened in Guyana because it is more difficult to achieve than a no-confidence motion.
Guyanese must begin to accept the no-confidence motion as a democratic mechanism. The mere threat of a no-confidence motion is a means of ensuring that Governments correct their failings. What other democratic means are available for having a government lawfully face the electorate?
Why therefore the Guyana Police Force would be investigating whether bribery was involved in such a vote is beyond comprehension. The police must not allow themselves to once again become a political footstool. There is nothing improper about someone voting in favor of a no-confidence motion even if it brings down their own government.
If the APNU+AFC does not agree that a democratically- elected government should be removed by a no-confidence motion, it should place this on its agenda of constitutional reform. But it will have to answer questions as to why when it was in the opposition invoked such a means to attempt to remove the Donald Ramotar administration in 2014.
Governments who feel that it undemocratic for a legislature to remove a government, always have the option to reverting back to the people. If the no-confidence motion of 21st December, 2018 was undemocratic, what is to prevent the government from calling elections and having the people restore their mandate?
Or does the government feel that even the people have abandoned it and that it can no longer command a majority of the support of the electorate? In that instance, the government can hardly justify holding on to power.
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