A bit over nine months since a government lawmaker sided with the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in a no confidence vote to bring down his own administration, the country is set to learn of the date for fresh general elections as early as this week.
The Ministry of the Presidency said late Tuesday that President David Granger will address the nation sometime on Wednesday night on the issue of general elections, a day after his cabinet had had a full discussion on plans and preparations for new polls. Elections in Guyana will be held just months before neighboring Suriname goes to the polls in late May. Those in Trinidad are scheduled by September.
The move comes after the Elections Commission told Granger in the past week that it would be ready for elections anytime after the end of February next year, three months before these are constitutionally due.
Granger, 74, has been forced to call elections at least 12 weeks before due largely because former government legislator Charrandass Persaud voted with the PPP on Dec. 21 to topple the administration in a stunning no confidence vote that placed the country in uncharted waters constitutionally.
In doing so, Persaud easily erased the wafer-thin, one seat majority that the governing coalition had been running the country with since beating out the PPP in May of 2015. He fled to Canada where he is a citizen after the vote, contending that he had voted with his conscience while denying claims that he had accepted a $1 million from the PPP and its business associates.
Granger had initially accepted that the vote was legally passed in the 65-membetr single chamber house but the coalition back peddled on the issue, saying that Speaker Barton Scotland had erred in allowing the vote to pass because 34 rather than 33 votes had constituted a majority. The opposition had contended that it was indeed 33. Authorities moved to Guyana’s supreme and appeals court for a ruling, with the former agreeing that 33 were needed, the latter disagreeing that 34 was the correct number. Next came the judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s final appeals system. The judges ruled that 33 votes were indeed what was required and urged that polls be held in a timely manner in keeping with constitutional dictats.
In the intervening months, the opposition, civil society groups and even western governments demanded immediate general elections but Granger remained steadfast that he could not legally name a date until he was advised that the Elections Commission was ready with a clean and credible voters list. He got his advice in the past week and now appears to now have no choice but to name a date for the polls.
There was also major political squabbling over the appointment of chairperson for the polls body and it was not until recently when retired Justice Claudette Singh was appointed to run its affairs.
In an announcement late Tuesday, Cabinet said that Granger met with his cabinet members and discussed the issue of holding credible general and regional elections in Guyana at the earliest possible time.” Officials said that a late March date will most likely be the case as the commission said that it will start the claims and objections period on Oct. 1, allowing people to make corrections or additions to the voters list or to be registered during this period.
Granger’s multi party coalition had been adamant that it will not go to the polls with the current voters list because it was inaccurate and favored the PPP. New identification cards will also be issued by the commission and this will nullify hundreds, if not thousands of illegal cards allegedly in the hands of the PPP, ready to be slipped into the system on an elections day.
The country will be going to the polls at least three months after Guyana becomes the world’s newest producer of oil. American supermajor ExxonMobil has already found more than a dozen commercial wells and is readying to begin actual production.