Photo: Bharrat Jagdeo
Voters feel that the Guyana government’s appeal (led by the PNC) at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is to prevent Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo from seeking another term as President. Jagdeo is enormously popular, and the poll reveals if he were the Presidential candidate of the opposition PPP, he would win handsomely against any opponent (including incumbent President David Granger) of the ruling PNC-led coalition. This is one of several findings of an ongoing opinion tracking poll being conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA).
The constitution bars a person from running for President for more than two five years terms. Jagdeo served as President for two terms, and it was during his Presidency that the two-term law came into effect with his signature. A voter challenged the law as unconstitutional and the Guyana courts ruled in his favor. The Guyana courts ruled that term limits have to be approved by the voters in a referendum. The PNC led coalition government disagreed and appealed the ruling at the CCJ. The government has been unwilling to take a risk with a referendum that could be rejected by voters given the immense popularity of Jagdeo. The appeal came to be known as the third term case. The full seven judges (4 Blacks, 2 Mixed and 1 White) of the CCJ is due to rule on Tuesday.
The CCJ prospective ruling has been embroiled in controversy. Indo-Guyanese complain there are no Indian judges on the bench. And a few months ago, right after the matter was heard at the CCJ, it was reported in the media that members of Guyana’s cabinet and other officials of the government said they had “inside information” that the CCJ would rule against Jagdeo seeking a third term. The officials of the government were also heard saying that the CCJ which has no Indian judges, would rule based on “race” to deny Indians equitable space in Guyana and the Caribbean. The media further reported that several CCJ judges were friendly with officials of the government, and one of them was frequently seen in Guyana socializing with cabinet members and other officials of the government. And there was a reported conflict of interest with the CCJ President’s (Chief Justice) assistant (an Afro-Guyanese) who is the grandson of the Chairman of Guyana’s Election Commission (James Patterson) whose appointment itself is mired in controversy and before the Guyana courts.
Voters in the latest survey say the CCJ and the case itself have become “too politicized” causing them to lose faith and confidence in the independence of the judges and the court. A large majority said the whole third term appeal is to prevent Jagdeo from running because the ruling coalition cannot defeat Jagdeo in a free and fair election. A majority said the government has gone to the CCJ because it is not confident it can win a referendum on the issue. And half of the respondents in the survey say the court would not render a fair and impartial verdict in the third term matter.
Asked whether Jagdeo should be able to run again for another term as President, almost every supporter of the PPP answered in the affirmative. Traditional supporters of the PNC and those who once supported AFC are divided on the issue. A large majority say Jagdeo would win a free and fair election if he were the PPP’s nominee.
Asked if the third term issue should be settled by a referendum allowing voters to decide on the issue, rather than having the CCJ deciding the issue, almost everyone said yes.