Stabroek News Founder would have condemned unilateral selection of Gecom Chair

Stabroek News Founder would have condemned unilateral selection of Gecom Chair

Doreen de Caires, wife of the late Stabroek News founder David de Caires, queried what would have been his reaction to recent political developments like the unilateral Gecom chair appointment, etc. had he been alive. He was a constitutionalist and would have abhorred at the appointment. He would have been most disappointed and fuming at the government for violating a constitutional agreement and for its failure to institutionalize reforms (including replacing the constitution to consolidate democratic gains that were made in 1992.

I think I have a good take on some of David de Caires’s views on current political issues derived from my professional relationship with him. I had the good fortune of repeated interactions with de Caires between 1990 and 2007/8 exchanging thoughts and views on and analyzing Guyanese politics and personalities. We also met at several social events, and he was not one to miss lectures by outstanding personalities especially those visiting from abroad. He was not shy about exchanging political thoughts at these events. I also met him at book readings and lectures of Profs. Clem Seecharran and David Dabydeen -- he gave forthright views on social-politico issues and fair assessments of the views espoused by and positions adopted by these scholars. De Caires had also penned articles in Caribbean publications on Guyanese politics and he appeared on several TV programs giving comments related to electoral matters.

As an aside, de Caires had a very helpful attitude towards others and loved to see people develop themselves intellectually, professionally and materially. He offered advice to improve my polling and writing for which I am grateful. He was very impressed with my polling work although he said my letters were often too long. He also warned that I was making too many political commentaries fearing they would be misconstrued as being politically biased and that they could hurt my professional reputation as a pollster and journalist. There was confidence in our exchange so much so that he shared his home phone number. He requested we meet whenever I was in Guyana which was quite often. I also sought him out whenever I was in the country, and although he was often very busy with his editing of letters, he never turned down a request for a visit. He spoke frankly to me giving his views on election rigging and electoral and constitutional reform.

So his views are available in public from which a person can have a fair idea on how he would have responded to current political development – abide by the constitution and gentlemen agreement.

My many exchanges with de Caires suggested he was a patriot, and he wanted to see Guyana progress and develop. He was not liked by figures in the PNC and PPP as I discerned in my exchanges with individuals in both parties. But contrary to how some in the PPP and PNC felt about him, de Caires was an unbiased commentator. He was a professional newspaper person. He was a very fair minded editor in chief and was critical of both political parties. He allowed critiques and praises of both parties in the paper. But he also felt that if a commentator dishes out (attack) to others, you must also be prepared to receive (accept) attacks.

He was frank in his critique of both the PNC and PPP and their leadership and not thin skinned when attacked, even when he was derogated by Desmond Hoyte as the “head of the Potguee mafia”. He did not respond to the unjustified attack. He felt Hoyte should have gone all out and instituted political and constitutional reforms, instead of piecemeal change, for the 1992 elections. He was also critical of Hoyte on his violent reaction to the 1997 election outcome. He felt PPP won squarely and that there should not have been a violent response. Hoyte should have accepted the outcome. For the 2001 elections, he felt Hoyte wasted a golden opportunity to push for wide ranging electoral reforms and full constitutional change would have led to inclusive governments by all major parties and all the ethnic groups.

De Caires told me that Guyana is one of the most difficult countries to govern. He said he would not wish the governance of Guyana on his worst enemy. But he was very passionate about the institutionalization of democracy and in politicians following the spirit of the constitution. Thus, he would have been critical of any action that does not follow the constitution especially as it relates to election. He was against election rigging and would have been suspicious of the appointment of a 84 year old former Judge who is an advisor to the government.

De Caires would have been very supportive of the political change of May 2015, but disappointed with the attendant coalition governance as indeed most of Guyana and the diaspora are – expectations have not been met as the coalition has fallen short of many of its promises especially on constitutional reform, an area that deeply concerned De Caires. He felt the constitution of the country should have been overhauled if not completely dumped and that executive powers should have been curtailed. He was sure Jagan was going to replace the constitution after the 1982 election as he promised. But Jagan disappointed all of us in retaining the Burnham constitution, and Jagan’s successors, who were not in the forefront in the battle against the fraudulent 1978 referendum have also embraced the Burnham constitution. De Caires fought against the rigged referendum and opposed the Burnham constitution.

De Caires would not have supported the unilateral appointment of a Gecom Chair as he felt the agreement made by the government and the opposition on the issue in 1991 (and enshrined in the constitution) should be honored – the appointee should have come from the nominees of the Opposition. He would have endorsed names like Joe Singh, Chris Ram, Lawrence Latchmansingh, etc. as Chair as these are non-racial professionals. He would have called for some kind of compromise appointee if there was a stalemate or a deadlock over the issue. As someone who was a very strong fan of the AFC and very supportive of the group, de Caires would have roasted the AFC’s position giving support to the unilateral appointment of James Patterson.

De Caires would have supported peaceful protests over the unilateral appointment of Gecom Chair and he would have urged national, regional and international pressure on the government to change its position on the appointment. He would have called for mediation for a replacement Chair of Gecom who would not be seen as partisan towards any party.