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Coalition politics and PNCR power struggle

THE sudden resignation of Simona Broomes from the PNCR party because of what she claims to be the absence of “systems, and consultation” within the party, came at a testing time for the new PNCR leadership. This resignation would not help to alleviate the power struggle within the PNCR for control of the party’s apparatus. Mr Aubrey Norton was elected the new leader of the PNCR to replace former President Mr David Granger and he wants to replace Mr Joseph Harmon as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. But Mr Harmon, invoking constitutional principles, would not give up his position as Leader of the Opposition, and his recalcitrance is subtly supported by AFC Leader, Mr Khemraj Ramjattan.

This is an untenable situation where a Leader of the Opposition is not a member of the PNCR’s Executive, and he would therefore not necessarily have access to executive decisions (unless Mr Harmon is co-opted to the executive), and this ugly situation could undermine the PNCR’s drive for responsive and responsible governance. Mr Norton has inherited a problem that he did not create. It is perplexing that a leader of a major political party, for example, has no real power over his party’s deliberations in Parliament. The PNCR has entangled itself in a web that they have spun. The existing leadership crisis is a victim of coalition politics!

Mr Harmon says that he was elected by Opposition MPs to the position of Leader of the Opposition for the duration of the 12th Parliament, and further states that he is satisfied with his stewardship as well as with the performance of Opposition MPs. There are rules and procedures in place to remove members of Parliament. For example, the Opposition MPs could, through a vote of no confidence, remove Mr Harmon from that leadership position. Alternatively, Mr Harmon could be recalled by the Representative of the List, Mr David Granger.

As the Opposition Leader who was elected by APNU+AFC MPs, any attempt to remove Mr Harmon therefore must be made by the APNU+AFFC executive and not by the PNCR. The inter-relationships among the PNCR, AFC and smaller parties that constitute the APNU+AFC coalition are governed by the protocols of the Cummingsburg Accord (with subsequent modifications). And the Leader of the APNU+AFC coalition is Mr David Granger, while the General-Secretary is Mr Joe Harmon. It is therefore the APNU+AFC executive that must determine if Mr Harmon should step down as Opposition Leader and not the PNCR executive. This situation is very tricky.

There are indications that if Mr Norton becomes Opposition Leader as well as the Representative of the APNU+AFC List, that he may recall a few AFC MPs because he is not happy that Mr Granger allocated eight parliamentary seats to the AFC when their numerical voting strength at the 2020 polls plummeted to the equivalent of one seat. In making those AFC appointments to Parliament, Mr Granger has simultaneously ignored several PNCR members, like Mr Aubrey Norton, Mr James Bond, Ms Volda Lawrence, Mr Basil Williams, Ms Simona Broomes, Mr Ronald Bulkan and others for that position. They all played significant roles in the 2020 elections.

The AFC does not feel secure that Mr Norton would honour the arrangements (Cummingsburg Accord) made between the smaller parties and Mr Granger’s APNU. They fear that under pressure from the new PNCR executive, Mr Norton would try to remove a few AFC MPs. For this reason, the AFC Leader Mr Khemraj Ramjattan says that any decision cannot be unilateral as there are legal and constitutional constraints involved in any move to replace Mr Harmon with Mr Norton. Mr Ramjattan states that he is not taking sides, but is just guided by the law and the Constitution in this matter. He insists that any approval to replace Mr Harmon must be given by the APNU+AFC body and not by the PNCR executive.

If approval is given by the APNU+AFC, then certain conditions are likely to be set in motion. The AFC will ensure that their MPs are protected; that the Cummingsburg Accord arrangements are observed; and that Mr Harmon gets a face-saving path out. There are strong feelings among many coalition members and supporters that while Mr Harmon’s leadership as Minister in the Office of the Presidency has not been inspiring, he had nevertheless worked assiduously, particularly during the five-month post-election fiasco, to hold onto power tenaciously; not to mention his huge fund-raising efforts for the party. The party should not throw him to the kerb.

Another amazing point relates to the Representative of the APNU+AFC List. Mr Granger, although he is not part of the PNCR executive, is the Representative of the APNU+AFC List and Mr Ramjattan is the Deputy. If Mr Granger steps aside, then it logically follows that Mr Ramjattan takes this position, unless he agrees to make way for Mr Norton. In that case, Mr Norton must get the blessings of the APNU+AFC coalition. But there is another constitutional issue. The Representative and Deputy are designated before an election and whether a replacement could happen after an election is not clear from RoPA. There is no clear succession plan for Representative of the List, apart from clinging to convention that the Representative should be replaced by the Deputy. Also related is this: “who will be the opposition chief scrutineer to replace Amna Ally?” Under the present arrangement, that person should be nominated by the APNU+AFC executive, or by the Leader or Deputy Leader of the List, and not by the PNCR Leader.

The ultimate challenge for the PNCR leadership is to provide Mr Joseph Harmon with a face-saving exit strategy.

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