By Durrant Pate
Guyana has been removed from the Commonwealth’s watch list after being placed there owing to concerns regarding its disputed March general elections.
The election results caused much controversy and were only resolved five months later on August 2. The removal of Guyana from the formal agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was agreed at its October 19 virtual meeting and disclosed in a press release last Thursday.
On April 2 this year, CMAG took up the case of Guyana’s elections stalemate and called on the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to fulfill its constitutional mandate for a credible tabulation of votes. It warned that any government sworn-in without a transparent process would lack legitimacy.
CMAG is the body to which persistent offenders of the Commonwealth’s shared principles are referred. Its taking up of Guyana’s case was seen as a major embarrassment for the then APNU+AFC government and a blow to plans to have then President David Granger sworn in for a new term without a credible vote count.
Referral to CMAG is also a preliminary step to the ultimate sanction that Guyana could have been faced with expulsion from the Commonwealth, which is a gathering of former British colonies. At its 57th meeting last Monday, the CMAG received a briefing from Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland on the Secretariat’s engagements in supporting Guyana to strengthen its adherence to the Commonwealth’s fundamental values.
The meeting also received a briefing from the foreign minister of Guyana, Hugh Todd on the current situation in the country. The CMAG welcomed the conclusion of the election process and the announcement of an official election results.
The CMAG ministers commended the efforts of the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s office in cooperation with partners, in particular CARICOM. The CMAG ministers pointed to the subsequent inauguration of President Irfaan Ali and his Government and “extended their congratulations, calling on all stakeholders in the country to continue working together to strengthen its democratic culture and to continue exploring opportunities for dialogue on critical matters of national importance”.
The ministers “welcomed the commitment by President Ali to inclusive governance, without discrimination and with due regard to fairness and equity; in consonance with the abiding values of the Commonwealth”.
They noted that post-election petitions have been filed by the Opposition and, in recalling the Commonwealth principle that an independent, effective and competent legal system is crucial to upholding the rule of law, urged that the petitions be allowed to conclude through due legal process.
In considering the current situation in the country, the ministers observed that the circumstances in Guyana have evolved and “no longer represent serious breaches of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values and principles”.
Given these circumstances, the ministers agreed to remove Guyana from its formal agenda. They have mandated that the Commonwealth Secretary-General remain actively engaged with Guyana as needed, and accompany the country through this transition, “to further consolidate their adherence to democratic values”.
For her part, Baroness Scotland remarked: “Guyana is a much loved and valued member of the Commonwealth. On behalf of the entire Commonwealth family, I strongly encourage the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to follow the directions given by the Caribbean Court of Justice and decisively conclude the March 2, 2020 elections based on the results of the national recount. The will of the people as expressed in the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections must be respected for democracy to prevail in Guyana.”