…says everyone has a constitutional right to protest
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is under fire for utterances made in the state media criticising the parliamentary Opposition’s protest at the President’s address to the 71st sitting of Parliament, in which the label of “domestic terrorism” was attached to the party.
Dismissing the comments as “nonsensical”, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall upped the heat on the PM and insisted that everyone, including his party, has a constitutional right to protest. According to Nandlall, his party especially had this duty in light of the widespread discontent over the President’s unilateral appointment of a Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman.
“A constitutional wrong took place in the country, committed by the President; and we have an obligation (to protest). The country is outraged. Every important stakeholder organisation in this country has expressed their condemnation of what the President did: the Bar Association of Guyana, the Berbice Bar, the Private Sector, the Berbice and Georgetown Chambers of Commerce, the human rights organisation, the labour movements, and a host of other individuals have condemned what the President did. If you walk on the ground, (it) is the same type of reaction,” Nandlall said.
Nandlall pointed out that the party was betrayed by the President, who was not only bound by the Constitution, but had also committed publicly to working with the parliamentary Opposition to appoint a GECOM Chairman.
“We sat with the President for hours and he provided a criterion which we tried to follow even though we felt they were in violation of the Constitution. A citizen of the country went to court to get a judgement to assist the President and the President threw all that out the window and unilaterally named a person of his own choosing,” Nandlall explained.
He added that the PPP has a duty to its constituencies and the people of Guyana to convey their frustration and disappointment to the Government.
“And those placards and chants in the National Assembly were expressive of the feelings of the Guyanese people. We expressed our dissent to the Government and the President, as we are entitled to do,” he said.
In a report carried in the state media, Nagamootoo said, “I believe it was awful, disgraceful; it was disgusting. You see the Leader of the Opposition hiding behind a placard, reducing himself to the level of a placard-bearer, a picketer in the National Assembly.”
Nagamootoo, paraphrased describing the protest in Parliament as an effort “to turn the National Assembly into an arena of domestic terrorism”, went on to label the Opposition’s actions as guerrilla tactics.
Even the Government’s appointee to the GECOM post, retired Justice James Patterson, had noted that it was not unusual for legislators to get rowdy. He noted that politics is an area one does not go into if one is timid.
“I don’t know if this is the norm that goes on. Worse than this has (happened) in the British Parliament. I’ve seen members take off their shoes and bang the desk and all of that. But I’m hoping that some degree of civility emerges,” the retired Justice Patterson said, when approached after the sitting.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader DR Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday noted that the party opted for an active protest in Parliament over walking out, in order to better highlight its grievances to representatives of the international community sitting in the gallery.
In a press statement, the parliamentary Opposition went even further in slamming the President. According to the party, the President paid “lip service” to the rule of law in his speech in wake of the GECOM appointment.
“As usual, the President’s speech consisted of his usual platitudes and patronising sentiments. It did not address the real issues about which the Guyanese people are genuinely concerned at this point in time”, the Opposition statement said. “For example, the unconstitutional appointment of a Chairman of GECOM; job creation, heavy taxation, the lack of investment, the closure of the Sugar industry, the neglect of our farmers and miners, the spiralling crime wave, and other pressing issues of public importance”, the statement said.