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Guyanese President Shuts Down Parliament to Avoid ‘No-Confidence’ Vote

Guyana's Parliament building in the heart of Georgetown. Photo by David Stanley, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Guyana's Parliament building in the heart of Georgetown. Photo by David Stanley, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

To avoid a no-confidence vote, Guyanese President Donald Ramotar has prorogued the country's parliament for six months (discontinuing the body, without dissolving it). Guyana has a history of particularly radical political instability, leading to concerns that Ramotar's move will undermine the country's democracy. More than 800 people have already signed an online petition calling for President Ramotar to reverse his decision

Dr. David Hinds, a political activist and social commentator, wrote on Facebook that the government has lost its legitimacy:

Now that Parliament has been suspended, the people’s representatives have in effect been dismissed by the President. They have no formal forum to represent the interests of their constituencies. They have been put out on the streets—the very streets that for three years they avoided like the plague. The President and his cabinet and party are the sole rulers of Guyana. They have crowned themselves the dictators of the country; that is what they have always wanted. They have subverted the constitution. They can no longer hold on to the mantle of democracy; it’s an illusion.

The Roman Catholic Church, which prominently opposed the Burnham regime‘s racial politics, released a statement:

The […] suspension of Parliament on Monday November 10, 2014 puts Guyana into uncharted territory.
There are expectations that the ‘Church’ would give a guiding word or pronounce on issues. But the Church is the entire people of faith and not just its leaders. When believers from any faith tradition live their faith teachings in everyday life then truly the Church is speaking eloquently. When […] in daily life we hold our heads high in the face of intimidation and corruption it is then that the Church speaks in volumes. […] In times of flux and transition we are all called to examine our convictions and bring them to the process of renewal.

It is true that in former times the Catholic Church was at the forefront of efforts to promote justice and peace in Guyana […] We have worked on many national issues, from elections to domestic violence to trafficking in persons.

It is true that efforts in this area have not been consistent. In humility, I suggest that Guyana – like my Church – needs both institutional and relational strengthening. We must find new ways of relating to each other, and better structures to support and encourage those improved relations.

The Organization of America States also called on Ramotar to reverse his decision:

The head of the hemispheric Organization said, ‘in a democracy, an efficient functioning of the Parliament allows for checks and balances and for the voice of the people to be heard.’ He recalled that ‘since the last elections in November 2011, Guyana has had a split governance system with the executive controlled by one party and the combined opposition having the majority in Parliament.’ […]

In light of this reality the Secretary General of the OAS urges both the governing and opposition political parties ‘to redouble their efforts to reach an understanding and compromise on the major political and socio-economic issues facing the country.’

On Twitter, one user compared Ramotar's actions to the suspension of the constitution in then-British Guiana by the colonial authorities:

Professor Maya Trotz, meanwhile, wondered why other regional leaders have said nothing about the political impasse:  

Iana Seales seemed to hold out hope that Ramotar might still be persuaded to call new elections:

Writer and activist Ruel Johnson posted a picture from a protest outside of the parliament building in Georgetown: 

A photo posted by Ruel Johnson (@rueljohnson) on Nov 11, 2014 at 5:13pm PST.

Just weeks ago, in an ongoing case that has excited many in an already polarized society, Guyana's Attorney General was accused of threatening a journalist. Recently, a popular radio conglomerate in Guyana circulated a memo asking hosts to avoid the discussion of politics during broadcasts.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, say they refuse to negotiate with the President while the parliament is still discontinued. The stalemate, in other words, promises to continue for some time.

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