Aug 08, 2020 Letters Comments Off on August 8 is a significant date in our history
August 8, 2020 will mark the 21st anniversary of the resignation of Janet Jagan as President of the Republic of Guyana.
Because her resignation took place under peculiar national circumstances, and her action by its very nature, resulted in the opening of a new chapter in our political history, the repercussions of which remain with us to this day, I consider it important to provide readers with elements of the backdrop that led to her resignation.
As the Presidential Candidate of the PPP/C for the December 15, 1997 elections, the Party won 55.5 per cent of the 461,479 votes cast, while the opposition PNC/R won 42.3 per cent of the votes. On December 19, 1997, Mrs. Jagan was declared President of Guyana by the chairman of GECOM.
Later on the same day, following the declaration, while Mrs. Jagan was being sworn in at State House, two Court Marshals turned up to serve on her, a Court Order, preventing her from being sworn in as President. Mrs. Jagan accepted the Court Order but to the amazement of those present, threw the document over her shoulder.
In an interview given on January 28, 1998, President Jagan had the following to say concerning her action: “Yes, I regret what took place and I wish to apologize for my action… I also wish to mention very categorically, that it had nothing at all to do with disrespect of the laws or our constitution.”
For her part, Justice Bernard later said Mrs. Jagan’s action was “not one with malice” nor did she consider it “disrespectful to her Court”.
A writ filed by the PNC to prevent Mrs. Jagan from assuming the Office of President was discharged by the court on January 12, 1998.
The court ruled that under Article 177(6) of the constitution, ‘once a person named in the instrument is declared as President at an election held pursuant to Article 60(2) of the constitution, that declaration shall be conclusive evidence that the person so named was so elected and no question as to the validity of the election as the president of the person so named shall be inquired into in any court’. That Article’, the Court ruled, ‘prevents direct scrutiny of such a declaration, but not an enquiry by way of an elections petition.’
The PNC then resorted to an elections petition.
The court took almost three years following the submission of evidence and hundreds of affidavits and witnessed statements to conclude that the elections of 1997 were ‘vitiated.’
Chief Justice Claudette Singh found that, “Although I view these flaws (irregularities and illegalities) as massive, I am unable to hold that illegal voting by persons who were not registered and were without voter’s ID cards would have per se, affected the results of the elections.”
The court made three Consequential Orders that placed certain restrictions on the Janet Jagan administration until such time that fresh elections are called.
The massive win, the first of its kind in the history of the PPP, so enraged the PNC that, in addition to their court actions, they mounted street protests disrupting economic and social life in the country. Their cry was “We now have an unlawful government.”
In an effort to diffuse the political crisis, CARICOM was invited to intervene.
The Herdsmanston Accord brokered by CARICOM resulted in Mrs. Jagan’s Constitutional five-year term in office being reduced to three years with fresh elections being held in 2001 instead of 2002.
Commenting on the Accord, President Jagan had this to say, “But most of all, the Accord brought us back from the brink. It was, in my view, that we were on the brink of a disaster. If it had not been for the responsible behaviour of the PPP/Civic, I am afraid this country may have gone into the abyss that we went into in the 1960’s.”
In the meanwhile, President Janet Jagan was confronted with increasing challenges. A public servants strike called by the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) lasted for fifty-seven days. The union demanded a forty percent increase in salaries for 1999 and a fifty percent increase for 2000.
Bharrat Jagdeo, the then Minister of Finance, described the union’s demand as “unrealistic.” He declared that, “ninety percent of government revenues was going to pay public servants and to service the foreign debt.”
President Jagan spared no effort to ensure implementation of agreements enshrined in the Herdsmanston Accord and the Saint Lucia Statement. Mr. Hoyte had reneged on the latter by refusing to end his party’s boycott of sittings of the National Assembly. In addition, Hoyte shunned participation in the constitutional reform process and rejected fast tracking the holding of local government elections.
The stoning of President Jagan’s car by a hostile group of hooligans on February 26, 1998, as she left parliament buildings following the opening of the Seventh Parliament was another manifestation of organized thuggery by the opposition PNC.
In the midst of all the challenges, President Jagan made state visits to Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil. She participated in summits of CARICOM, the Rio Group and a European Union, Latin America and Caribbean Summit held at Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
It was following her participation in the latter that she fell ill and on her way back from Brazil had to make an emergency stop-over in Port of Spain to rest and for a medical check-up. Later, another medical check-up was done in Canada.
On Sunday August 8, 1999, in a broadcast to the nation Mrs. Jagan said, “I considered at length and consulted with close colleagues on the question of my continuing in office as President. It is now my firm and studied conclusion that I can no longer continue to offer to the nation the vigorous and strong leadership that I had sought to provide during my twenty months as the lawful and duly elected President of the people of Guyana.”
And as though prophetic, Mrs. Jagan, went on, “The protection of our democracy is vital for the development of our country. Its protection and deepening is a matter for all Guyanese. We must see to it at all costs, there must never be a return to authoritarianism and rigged elections.”
Mrs. Jagan went on to express her confidence in the youthful new President, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, who she said,”…presided admirably over the important Ministry of Finance. I know he is firm in dealing with government business and is not afraid to make decisions. His office requires that kind of firmness.”
President Jagan thanked all the people who voted for her and the PPP/C in the ‘97 elections, her “colleagues who walked with me and my husband all those years,” Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, the GDF’s Chief of Staff, the Commissioner of Police, other members of the Joint Services and all those “who kept her aware of the problems and aspirations of the Guyanese people.”
Thus ended a historic, memorable but hectic tenure of Janet Jagan as President of Guyana. Her handing over the baton to Bharrat Jagdeo marked the beginning of another exciting and prosperous period in the history of the Guyanese people.
Clement J. Rohee
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