Dr Irfaan Ali of the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) has been sworn-in as Guyana’s 9th Executive President, bringing an end to a record-breaking prolonged electoral process that was driven by the incumbent APNU/AFC regime refusing to bow to the will of the people as expressed through their ballots.
He was sworn-in by Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards following the declaration by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
The PPP/C won the presidency with a commanding 233,336 votes, a remarkable lead of 15,416 over its nearest political rival, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) – which has been refusing to accept defeat, and which at the last hour, attempted to file an injunction in the courts to prevent the declaration by Chairman of GECOM Justice (rtd) Claudette Singh.
Dr Ali brings to the presidency a long and diverse experience at all levels of government.
He previously served as a government minister under the PPP/C, with responsibilities for major sectors like housing, tourism and commerce. Specifically, he served as Minister of Housing and Water and Minister of Tourism Industry and Commerce.
During his tenure as Minister of Housing, he conceptualised and implemented the largest and most extensive housing drive in the country’s history, under-girded by a massive house lot distribution to citizens from all strata and geographic regions.
The 40-year-old politician also has a wealth of parliamentary experience; he became a Member of Parliament in 2006 and during the last National Assembly, he chaired one of the most important committees; the Public Accounts Committee which is responsible for examining public expenditure.
Ali was born in Leonora, West Coast Demerara (WCD)/ He attended St Stanislaus College and has been a member of the PPP for over 20 years, starting at the Party’s youth arm. He recently was awarded a PhD in of Philosophy in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of the West Indies at St Augustine, Trinidad. He has also been a part of the leadership for 15 years, during which time he held the position of Finance Secretary for several years.
In his professional experience before he became a Minister, Ali worked as an economic planner, also chairing a Project Steering Committee on the Low-Income Settlement Committee.
He also worked as the National Programme Coordinator of local Caribbean Development Bank funded programmes. When he did become a Minister in 2009, he went on to serve in the Cabinet for seven years.
As is the tradition of the PPP/C, the new president is committed to executing the manifesto of the party, which they consider to be a contract they made with the electorate which put them into office.
The PPP/C has outlined a range of policies and programmes it intends to embark upon to bring relief to the country’s economic sectors, business community, and ordinary citizens who have been largely affected by the policies and programmes, or lack thereof, implemented under the APNU/AFC Administration.
However, in an overarching manner, the new president announced in the period during the long recount that he was very concerned about immediately addressing divisions in the country which were precipitated and exacerbated by the APNU/AFC’s hysterical and incendiary campaign.
He specifically pointed to the need for inclusive governance, which was included in the manifesto but which he will prioritize. He also pointed to the already stagnated economy, which was further devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic as requiring his urgent attention. It is fortuitous that economic development is the new president’s forte and it is expected he will hit the ground running in this area.
While President Ali combines youth with experience, he heads a team that includes his Prime Minister Mark Philips with decades of organisational experience as a senior officer of the Guyana Defence Force and also the former longest serving President of the Republic of Guyana, Bharat Jagdeo, who has promised to place all his experience at the service of the new administration. Unlike the outgoing administration, the PPP/C which was in office only five years ago, has experienced personnel at all levels to joining the youthful faces that have been seen during the campaign.
Among the policies outlined in the PPP/C manifesto are the removal of Value-Added Tax (VAT) on key areas such as electricity, water and healthcare.
Also, on the Party’s agenda is the reversal and/or reduction of the over 200 tax measures imposed by the coalition administration— such as on building materials, on data, and exports. VAT will also be reversed on farming, mining and forestry equipment.
The Party has promised to reverse the land rent, and draining and irrigation charges on cattle rearing, rice farming and new taxes miners.
The manifesto outlined 20,000 online scholarships and plans to offer free university education within its five-year term in office.
Other areas the PPP plans to address is reducing the age limit on the importation of vehicles, reversal of the 2AM curfew, the restoration of the Joint Services bonus, support for small businesses
Dr Ali’s assumption to presidency comes after a long-fought battle to restore democracy to Guyana, which is poised to undergo major economic transformation due to its new found oil wealth.
The battle began in December 2018, when the David Granger-led APNU/AFC Coalition Administration fell to a No-Confidence Motion sponsored by the Bharrat Jagdeo-led Opposition PPP/C.
The Granger Administration violated the Guyana Constitution by refusing to concede defeat and call elections within three months as constitutionally stipulated.
Instead, it mounted a legal challenge that reached all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which upheld the validity of the Motion of No-Confidence and ruled that elections in Guyana ought to have been held since March 2019.
Inter alia, the CCJ also pronounced Granger’s unilateral appointment of the Gecom Chair James Patterson was illegal and he resigned.
Eventually, Justice Claudette Singh ‘Iron Lady’ was appointed as Head of the Elections Commission following an agreement between the President and Opposition Leader in keeping with the Constitution.
Elections were set to be held on March 2, 2020.
What was already deemed a free, fair, credible and transparent electoral process by all international and domestic observes and the diplomatic corps, descended into chaos when the tabulation of the Statements of Polls (SOPs) for the country’s largest electoral district, Region Four (Demerara Mahaica) was interrupted on the evening of the March 2 continuing into the day of March 3 when the Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo suddenly fell ill.
When the process was eventually resumed, Mingo began using figures which did not match the official SOPs in the possession of political parties and international as well as local observers.
The figures Mingo was using were heavily inflated in favour of the APNU/AFC, whose representatives did not object to the skullduggery unfolding.
Mingo then proceeded to make a fraudulent declaration of the results for the district, which eventually overturned by the Chief Justice Roxanne George who ordered that he count the votes in a transparent manner.
Mingo then flouted the court order when he resumed the tabulation, by still calling inflated numbers.
He made a second declaration which was rejected by all stakeholders except for the APNU/AFC Coalition.
It was then decided by President Granger, the Opposition Leader and the GECOM Chair to have a countrywide recount exercise supervised by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
A high-level CARICOM delegation arrived to Guyana shortly after, however, the recount never began after Granger’s support filed an injunction to block the exercise.
This resulted in the CARICOM Team departing and another prolonged legal battle; eventually the injunction was thrown out at the level of the Court of Appeal.
The recount exercise eventually began on May 6 with a three member CARICOM observer Team, which was granted special permission to fly to Guyana since, at the time, the country’s airports were closed due to COVID-19. At the time, several international observers had departed due to the prolonged legal battle and amid COVID-19 concerns.
When the recount began, the Granger Administration refused several requests from international observers, including the world-renowned Carter Center, to land in the country to observe the exercise.
During the recount exercise, the APNU/AFC started a new narrative that the elections were not credible; by making unsubstantiated claims that dead and migrated persons voted. APNU/AFC agents including senior members persisted with this false narrative and had been pushing for the elections to be annulled.
At the conclusion of the recount, the CARICOM Team – which Granger had described as the most important interlocutor in the process – deemed that the recount was transparent and credible, and that the certified recount results should form the basis of the declaration of the winners of the 2020 Elections.
The APNU/AFC coalition mounted another series of legal battles, challenging the results of the recount exercise.
Granger, finally on August 2 – exactly five months after elections were held – conceded defeat amid mounting international pressure including visa restrictions from the United States Government.