PNC cannot arbitrarily change Opposition Leader or APNU+AFC List Rep; procedures must be followed – Ramjattan

AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan

Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC) Khemraj Ramjattan has argued that the established procedures must be followed before the Leader of the Opposition or Representative of the List of the APNU+AFC Coalition can be changed.

The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the People’s National Congress Reform – the largest party in the APNU+AFC Coalition – wants the newly-elected Leader of the Party, Aubrey Norton, to sit in the National Assembly and hold the post of the country’s Opposition Leader.

That post is currently occupied by APNU’s Joseph Harmon who was appointed by Representative of the List, David Granger, former PNC Leader and former President.

Ramjattan, who is the Deputy Representative of the List, told this publication that these positions cannot be changed willy-nilly and that certain established procedures must be followed and that certain implications must be considered.

In expanding on his point, the AFC Leader made it clear that he is “not taking a side for Norton or Harmon”.

“Leader of the Opposition is appointed at the first meeting of the Parliament by a process that the Constitution of Guyana provides for…not the constitution of the PNC or the AFC or any Cummingsburg Agreement that we might have,” he explained.

Ramjattan indicated that the only way the Leader of the Opposition post can be changed is if Harmon resigns or the parliamentarians successfully table a motion of no-confidence against him.

“Joe has not indicated that he is resigning,” Ramjattan highlighted.

Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon

“Certain procedures have to be followed before a new Leader of the PNC can become the Opposition Leader. The expression by its National Executive, I respect they would like to see Norton and fine, that is their expressed position on the matter. But it does not follow that once that announcement is made that it necessarily has to be that he becomes Leader of the Opposition, there is a procedure,” the AFC Leader noted.

Similarly, he explained that there are procedures when changing the Representative of the List. “The Constitution provides and the Representative of the People Act, when we sent in the List of our Candidates … GECOM demands that you put who is the List Leader and the Deputy List Leader and we at that point in the 2020 elections… prior to sending in our List of Candidates… we had to also state who is our Leader of the List…”

And according to Ramjattan, as far as his knowledge is concerned, that person remains in that position “until the five year is up or if something happens to him and he cannot function”. But even in that situation, Ramjattan outlined that the Deputy Leader of the List then functions.

“You can’t just, midway of the stream, take away that status and give it to someone else,” he contended.

“I am not taking a side for Granger,” Ramjattan clarified, noting that he is just stating the “legal position”.

Former PNC Leader David Granger

Moreover, the AFC Leader noted that there are certain implications which can arise if a decision is taken to change these constitutional positions every time the Leader of the PNC, or any other coalition party, changes.

“Assuming that the PNC were to have another election in 2024, every three years they have their National Congress, and there is a new leader…does that mean then that Norton (if he succeeds in becoming Opposition Leader) would have to fall out?” Ramjattan asked.

The coalition parties are expected to meet soon to discuss this matter. Ramjattan admitted that his views on the situation comes across as if he is endorsing a particular personality, but the AFC Leader noted that he only wants the right procedures to be followed.

“It gives the impression that I am supporting Joe but I am not endorsing anybody here…I want to endorse the constitutionalism and rule of law which we must all adhere to, notwithstanding whosoever might be the personalities involved,” he expressed.

PNC Leader Aubrey Norton

The APNU has since issued a statement noting that “the members of A Partnership for National Unity have had no reason to question the abilities of David Granger and Khemraj Ramjattan as Head and Deputy Head of the list of the APNU/AFC, we have had no reason to question the leadership of Joseph Harmon as Leader of the Opposition and we have had no reasons to question the abilities of any Member of Parliament. While we are yet to meet with the new PNCR Leader Mr Aubrey Norton, we are expecting to have a good working relationship with him as we’ve had with former President David Granger.”

Harmon, who lost his bid for the PNCR leadership to Norton, has since insisted that he should remain Opposition Leader.