July 12, 2000
On Tuesday, July 4, a Parliamentary motion supporting the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which sets out the donor community's terms of support for the upcoming election was passed in the National Assembly. Present at the sitting were only the PPP/Civic and Dr Roopnaraine of the Alliance for Guyana, the latter of whom pleaded in vain for the vote to be deferred. The PNC had boycotted the session because it was insisting that there should be agreement on the electoral system before the motion on the MOU was tabled. The United Force member, Mr Manzoor Nadir, was also not in attendance, but for a different reason; he rejects the MOU in principle, maintaining that Guyanese must pay for their own elections.
The problem is that the MOU itself would seem to stipulate that full support from the parties in Parliament would be necessary before it could be implemented. During the debate, Dr Roopnaraine quoted from the relevant section which requires, "the passage of a Parliamentary Motion of full support for the MOU by the parties represented in the National Assembly of Guyana." As it is, no funds under the MOU have so far been forthcoming.
The impasse between the PPP/Civic and the PNC on the electoral system which caused the governing party to try and activate the MOU unilaterally, concerns the allocation of seats to the proposed ten constituencies, corresponding to the ten regions of Guyana. There are twenty-five seats to be allocated in all, and the sticking point is Regions 8 and 9, where the PNC wants two seats for each, and the PPP/Civic wants one. Neither side, so far, has displayed any inclination to make concessions on the issue.
Perhaps out of fear that the elections' timetable was in serious jeopardy, the PPP/Civic tried a leapfrog manoeuvre. It was not their best thought for the year. Leaving aside entirely the merits and demerits of the two positions on Regions 8 and 9, there is a logic to the PNC argument that the electoral system has to be agreed before the Elections Commission can implement the measures which are necessary for a free and fair election. That body cannot work in a vacuum; there has to be absolute clarity about its mandate and the system it has to operate with before it can begin to function.
Even if it were the case that there was no logic in the PNC argument, one might have thought that the terms of the MOU itself would have given the governing party pause for thought. What is the point of securing the passage of a memorandum in the absence of the opposition, when the electoral aid package contained in that memorandum cannot be activated unless the opposition is present and gives its assent? "An exercise in futility," was how Dr Roopnaraine described it, adding that the Government's action would only harden the position of the two parties in relation to the disagreement over seats' allocation in Regions 8 and 9. He is undoubtedly correct in that assessment, which paradoxically would place us in a position where far from speeding up elections operations, the PPP/Civic might actually have succeeded in slowing them down.
The priority, quite clearly, is for the two major parties to break the logjam on the seats' allocation issue with some urgency. Until that is done, the famous timetable will remain stalled.
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