EX-President Mr. David Granger missed a golden opportunity to bring national healing, transform his image, and boost his favourability ratings after the failed attempt to rig the March elections. As a political scientist, I learnt that the office of presidency, whether in America or Guyana or any country, transcends any one individual, and one must respect the office and be willing to go to extraordinary measures to make the office and country better. One must not show partisanship, and be willing to embrace all, regardless of party. President Ali has done exactly that; took the initiative to bring all ex-Presidents together for support and advice on building a better nation. Regardless of party affiliation, all political leaders (Presidents) must at times be willing to work or come together for the well-being of the nation. It is an act of patriotism, showing that one cares about country more than party and politics. But there is hardly any reciprocity from the opposing side to Ali’s invitation, and that does not augur well for the future.
Relations between Government and Opposition have been strained as a result of the publicly-attempted rigging of the last election. This consultation would have narrowed resentment and bridged the gap between the two opposing sides. A lot of goodwill would have flowed from this extraordinary summit. A fantastic photo opportunity was missed; one that brings former and current political leaders together. A rare occurrence! A showcase for the nation on working together for national reconciliation and development.
Mr. Granger could have helped to end the political acrimony and bitterness that followed the APNU+AFC defeat, and unite the nation as it goes into the holiday season; would have been a great holiday gift to the entire population. The excuse of a lack of an agenda for declining an invitation to meet with President Ali and other ex-Presidents is described as ‘lame’, and not accepted by a large majority of the population. The population feels Mr. Granger could have showed up and dictated terms; his agenda for the gathering of ex-Presidents and current President. He could even have come with a few assistants (including Opposition Leader), and insist that they be present for and partake in the proceedings. It is doubtful President Ali and or any ex-President would have objected. It was a historic opportunity for constructive conversation and fellowship; it would have been an opportunity to transform the bad- blood politics of the country, and contribute to the institutionalisation of democracy.
Generally, ex-Presidents meet at funerals, gala events, Republic or Independence days, Indian High Commission Phagwah celebrations, special functions, banquets, swearing in ceremonies, among others. This was a unique invitation by President Ali to meet to discuss any issue; to offer advice to the President, to discuss policies. He values their experience, advice and recommendations. President Ali did not invite the ex-Presidents for a partisan political discussion; he did not set an agenda. The ex-Presidents could have asked for or set one, or suggest what they would like to discuss. Ali would have found himself in a bind to discuss it. The President left the agenda open, for ‘an open discussion’; known as ‘no holds barred’ say in political science. An incomplete discussion would have led to follow-up meetings. If President Ali had failed to meet expectation, then President Granger and other ex-Presidents would have had justification to assail him for breach.
The language of the ex-President and Opposition Leader in their responses to the invitation was not warm; it’s not good for the future. Granger finds himself the odd man out, at least in terms of popularity. Supporters of both political sides interviewed by poll workers, as well as my own personal conversations with people, suggest that more than three-quarters of the public thinks Granger should have accepted the invitation; few opposed the meeting, while some supporters of APNU prefer not to give an opinion. Had Granger consulted with his supporters rather than party clique, he would have gotten their perspective on why he should have attended the parley. A majority of APNU supporters are in favour of the meeting.
Almost everyone praised President Ali for his initiative of parleying with ex-Presidents, saying he demonstrates class and willingness to work with opponents. Ali feels confident in meeting and working with ex-Presidents, regardless of party affiliation.
The public’s rating of President Ali’s leadership skills has been soaring ever since he was sworn in on March 2, and this initiative of a meeting makes him look even better. He inspires confidence among the population, demonstrating he has been able to get things done, and is willing to work with the opposition for the betterment of country. The President should not give up on reaching out to ex-President Granger and Opposition Leader Joe Harmon for a national dialogue.
The ex-Presidents who accepted the invitation for the confab have won the support and admiration of the population; people see them differently now than when they were Presidents. Donald Ramotar and Sam Hinds are being praised like never before. Bharrat Jagdeo, as usual, continues to tower above the others in popularity ratings, because of his charismatic leadership qualities, and his vast knowledge of issues and policies.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram