This article was first published on the 15th of May, 2020.Last updated: May 16, 2020 at 4:14 am
For some time leading up to December, 2018, the opposition PPP/C political party had been threatening the APNU/AFC government with a no-confidence motion citing abuse of state resources, neglect of the population, crime, high unemployment rate and general mistrust.
At that time, the then president of Guyana, David Granger, had been in Cuba for a medical checkup and treatment – having been diagnosed with cancer a few months back. Supporters of the government then posited that the opposition had chosen an insensitive time to put forward a no-confidence motion since the president was not in good health. But the opposition argued back in essence that the country’s health and well being was more important and that the president was “killing the nation.”
At the time of the no-confidence motion, the coalition APNU/AFC government occupied 33 seats in parliament and the opposition PPP/C only 32. For a no-confidence motion to be successfully passed, one member of government had to defect or, as they put it colloquially, “cross the floor.” Although there had been somewhat minor turbulences within the APNU/AFC camp, most members of the coalition thought that they were still a strong team. Little did they know that they were in for a major surprise.
On the evening of December 21, 2018, the vast majority of the Guyanese population were glued to their television screen, radio or internet-connected smartphone. Everyone was tense as the voting began. It would only take one APNU/AFC parliamentarian to vote against the government in order to bring it down. Would anyone dare do this? And whom would it be?
The coalition government at that time seemed confident that no one would cross the floor, releasing several video statements which pronounced that they are a “strong coalition.” But the opposition PPP/C seemed equally confident that one (or more) of the government’s parliamentarians would have been so sorely disappointed with the performance of the government that he would defect. Former Attorney General, Mr. Anil Nandlall, after citing a number of alleged abuses by the government, said, “resign now or we will vote you out.”
Then it was time for the voting. The historic event took place on the evening of the 21st of December, 2018 during the 111th sitting of the 11th parliament. The speaker started with the opposition parliamentarians, asking them in essence how they voted – whether “yes” in favor the no confidence motion or “no” against it. Mrs. Pauline Sukhai – Yes. Dr. Anthony – Yes. Ms. Manickchand – Yes. Mr. Nandlall – Yes….
Then it was time for the government side: Mr. Rutherford – No. Mr. Rajkumar – No. Mr. Seepersaud – Yes…. At that time, parliament erupted into an outburst as cheers of applause and shrieks of agony went up together.
Outside of the parliament building that evening, Mr. Seepersaud, also known as Charandass Persaud, explained his reasons for voting against his own government. He alleged that he was sorely disappointed with the performance of the government – a government which he had helped put into power. He said that his faction of the party – the AFC, had no say in any executive decision and were reduced to nothing more than “yes men” to the PNC/R faction of the coalition.
Further, Mr. Charandass explained that the closure of the Canje Sugar Estate – in the village where he resided – had a severe psychological and social impact on him. Thousands of people were left without jobs and thousands of families put on the breadline without a contingency plan. In the afternoons, he said, when he would sit and play dominoes in front of his home, he was unable to face his villagers who walked past staring at him – a man who was supposed to represent them in parliament but who was, at that time, part of a government which had betrayed them.
Fearing for his life which was already being threatened, Mr. Persaud left the next day on a chartered flight for Canada.
The APNU/AFC government fell by a no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018, but remained illegally in power until Guyana’s next elections in March 2, 2020. The constitution of Guyana requires the government to, in the event of having lost to a no-confidence motion, assume caretaker status and call elections within 3 months. But the APNU/AFC breached the constitution, going to court instead to try to prove that 33 was not a majority of a 65 member parliament, and held business as usual until the March 2, 2020 elections.