Guyana’s President David Granger.
Associated Press / Joedson Alves

Just as the country is preparing for the start of oil production in the last quarter of 2019, Guyana’s multiparty coalition government will first have to survive a spirited opposition parliamentary no confidence motion that is set for debate before Christmas if it wants to enjoy the financial windfall from its fledgling petroleum sector.

Since it won general elections in May of 2015, the administration of President David Granger has been running the Caribbean community’s largest member state with a wafer thin, one seat majority in the 65-seat assembly.

But its resolve to stay together as a government for its full five-year term until 2020 will be tested to the maximum when the assembly debates the motion brought by the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in the week before Christmas.

The opposition had been pushing to have the debate and vote held before lawmakers had considered the 2019 budget but lost in its bid. The two weeks of budget debates ended last Friday and all attention will now be turned to preparations for the no confidence debate and vote. Government officials are giving every indication that the opposition bid will fail but they are nevertheless keeping a watchful eye on every single lawmaker to ensure that they vote no.

Every representative, especially those from outlying regions in the interior, will be brought to the city and housed in a hotel, if necessary, to ensure they are physically present and prepared to vote for survival. Others who were on the coalition’s list of electors back in 2015 but were not selected as MP’s will also be present on standby in the event someone is absent, ill or suspected of being a snitch at the 11th hour. House leaders also have the option of recalling an elected MP and replacing them at the very last minute with someone whose loyalties are not in question or under suspicion.

The move by the PPP to try to topple the administration via the same route that the coalition did back in 2015 was prompted in large part by the government’s abysmally poor showing at local government elections in mid November.

The coalition, for example, lost a whooping seven council seats to the PPP in its city stronghold. The national turnout was barely 30 percent. This was widely interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the performance of government, especially by its supporters who had stayed away in droves. The move also came at a time when President Granger flew to Cuba for cancer treatment. Locals had long suspected that the president was not that well. Confirmation came last month. PPP officials say they moved in to capitalize on a government that appeared to be leaderless with Granger’s illness. A win for the PPP will trigger fresh elections by the first quarter or next year. A tie means the motion would have failed but it will nevertheless translate to a successful effort to damage or weaken the coalition in the eyes of the public.

Back in 2015, the PPP dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections rather than debate a similar no confidence motion that had been put forward by the coalition. The PPP thinks that this is pay back time and now appears to have the coalition on the run. House Leader and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo says the entire attempt will fail spectacularly

“It is the government that has the majority and therefore, a no-confidence motion cannot succeed. It is a no-go, it is a no-no. We will debate this motion, we will have this motion discussed and we will defeat it because it is not a viable motion,” he said.

The PPP has been pulling out all the stops to try to eke out a win. It is challenging Nagamootoo’s presence in the house while he is acting president. Guyana’s president does not normally attend parliamentary sittings. The PPP says that if he is acting president, he cannot therefore vote. If the speaker or the court rules in its favor, the one-seat majority will disappear. The PPP will therefore only need to switch one government lawmaker to topple an administration which came in to power the same week ExxonMobil announced one of the world’s biggest offshore oil finds in Guyana. The government is struggling to survive despite running a country filled with oil and as massive prosperity beckons.

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