Photo : Bharrat Jagdeo former President of Guyana
Respondents in the ongoing North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) opinion tracking poll being conducted in Guyana say they will not be surprised if the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday rules “against Bharrat Jagdeo running for a third term for President”. In fact, they are bracing for what they describe as an “anti-Jagdeo ruling” because they feel “the CCJ is compromised”. Although the case is not about Jagdeo, but rather on any candidate running for President for more than two terms, it has come to take on the title of the “third term case” for Jagdeo. And the entire case has taken on an anti-Jagdeo tenor.
The Guyana parliament passed a bill amending the constitution (that was established by the then illegal PNC government in 1980) inserting term limit of two five years terms. Then President Jagdeo signed the bill into law. But a voter challenged the two terms law and the Guyana courts declared the law unconstitutional saying the amendment can only be done by a referendum. The present PNC led coalition government appealed the ruling to the CCJ, the final court of appeal for Guyana. The entire appeal centers on preventing Jagdeo from running for President again because the focus has been on him rather than on the merits of the arguments. The ruling comes on Tuesday.
According to poll’s findings, a majority of the voters feel the CCJ verdict will not be fair and impartial because of what they describe as “incestuous, compromised and contaminated relations” between some officials of the CCJ and the some officials in the coalition. Politicians of the coalition have been talking about their close relations and racial affiliations with some of the judges of the CCJ. This has hurt the reputation of the CCJ. The CCJ has never had an Indian judge in its 12 years history although Indians make up almost half of Guyana’s population. The composition of the present court is four Africans, two Mixed and one White. A large majority of Guyanese say they lack faith and confidence in the CCJ. A majority of respondents feel the CCJ will rule based on “race” meaning against Jagdeo.
The poll finds the former President vastly popular even amongst supporters of the present PNC led coalition (that includes AFC that has been hemorrhaging). Voters say they will vote Jagdeo back in as President because the country was doing much better under his tenure.
Jagdeo is the most popular political figure in the country with no one coming even close. Voters say life was much better under his period of governance (1999 to 2011) than over the last three years of the coalition government. They described Jagdeo as “boss on the economy”. And they feel he knows what to do to turn around a stagnant economy.
Voters have been disappointed with the governance of the coalition that was installed in office in May 2015. Polls find that if Jagdeo were the PPP Presidential nominee, he would win a majority against the coalition led by incumbent President David Granger. But Jagdeo has not indicated whether he will seek another term. Nevertheless, the two terms appeal to the CCJ is being viewed as an effort “to knock Jagdeo off” the Presidential ballot.
Voters say that the coalition government feels if Jagdeo is kept off the ballot, the coalition would have a less difficult task to win re-election. Respondents further note that the coalition government believes that the PPP would be severely weakened without Jagdeo at the helm as Presidential candidate and that the party would be divided over a nominee as happened in 2011 and 2015 leading to its defeat. Jagdeo won comfortable majorities in 2001 and 2006. Indeed, the poll finds that PPP would face serious challenge to find a replacement in 2020 for the populist Bharrat Jagdeo. Elections are due in Guyana in two years. And the poll puts the PPP well ahead of the coalition.
Last April, reports circulated in Guyana that the seven judges were divided on a ruling. It was reported that the President (Chief Justice) of the CCJ wants a unanimous ruling because of 1. importance of the case and 2. his last verdict and he wants to leave on a high. There was intense lobbying to rule against Jagdeo.
The legal issue is whether the people or parliament is sovereign. The Guyana courts say the people are sovereign and must have a say on how they are ruled - a referendum. If the CCJ rules parliament is sovereign, it would mean that the parliament can pass any law including taking away the right of the people to elect representatives as well as give parliament the power to establish a dictatorship.