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OUR CARIBBEAN: Contrasts in Guyana and Jamaica

Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: Contrasts in Guyana and Jamaica

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Guyana’s parliamentary politics is unlike that of every other country in CARICOM and the differences became even more pronounced following recent general elections (Guyana’s on November 28, Jamaica’s on December 29).  
The most striking comparison relates to their approaches to the election of the Speaker of parliament and, relatedly, the inaugural meeting for oath-taking by parliamentarians.
In Jamaica, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s victorious People’s National Party (PNP) was ready a week after the poll to make initial arrangements for a customary ceremonial opening of the new parliament.
This is scheduled for Tuesday when a parliamentarian of the ruling party will be elected to preside over the 63-member House of Representative, with a Deputy Speaker being chosen from among the MPs of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).  
In Guyana, on the other hand, choosing a new Speaker for the 65-member National Assembly has been the focus of much political manoeuvring among the three parties that contested the November 28 poll.
This was scheduled to occur yesterday.
The PPP, with 32 allotted seats, has been contending that in accordance with established parliamentary conventions, it expected support for its nominee as Speaker, with the deputy speaker coming from the opposition.
But the two opposition parties – A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the minor Alliance for Change (AFC), having contested the election with a shared anti-PPP campaign, were split over which of them gets the Speaker’s job, with their combined one-vote majority against the PPP’s nominee.
The APNU had secured seven seats. But contrary to expectations, they engaged in open conflicts in the choice of Speaker.
When they could not reach a consensus, and their public wrangling raised fears of the PPP succeeding with its nominee, the suggestion arose for an unprecedented rotation of the Speaker’s post.
This itself soon degenerated into haggling over which gets the first spell at the Speaker’s job. Finally, an agreement was reportedly reached with preference going to AFC leader Raphael Trotman.
The real surprise was that Trotman, representative for AFC’s list of candidates, had earlier ruled himself out of involvement in elective politics and publicly backed the early announcement by his colleague chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, that the party’s original nominee would remain Moses Nagamooto.
So, welcome to a brand of Guyana’s politics of expediency in the election of a new Speaker, with the ceremonial inauguration of the new parliament being deferred for a later date.  
In contrast, Jamaica is holding firm to accepted traditions in its parliamentary system, with both the governing and opposition parties increasingly emphasizing the need to respect established democratic practices, and fostering of the politics of consensus.