With its wafer-thin, one-seat majority from the mid 2015 general elections, it was always possible that the main opposition party in Guyana could one day flip at least one member of parliament from the government’s side to vote with it in a no confidence motion that could topple a government in minutes.
That was exactly what happened during a historic sitting of Guyana’s parliament on Friday night when government lawmaker Charrandass Persaud voted with the 32 members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to successfully carry the motion, basically relegating the government to caretaker status and forcing fresh general elections in 90 days.
The administration of retired army general David Granger had been running the Caribbean trade bloc’s largest and most resource-rich country with one seat greater than the PPP’s 32 in the 65-member house since it was declared winner of the May 2015 polls with less than 5,000 more votes than the PPP.
But taking its cue from an abysmal showing by the governing multiparty coalition in local government elections held in mid November, the leadership of the PPP decided that the time to make its move was now. Its MP’s participated in nearly eight hours of withering floor debates on Friday and then braced for the what should have been a routine vote in a session president over by Speaker Barton Scotland. Government lawmakers threw everything at the opposition and gave the distinct impression that all 33 of its representatives would vote against the motion, drinks would be served and all would leave the chamber and head home or to the shopping districts.
But bedlam was to break out when Attorney at Law Persaud shouted Yes, Yes, Yes from the government benches, much to the astonishment of colleagues. Persaud was even asked if he had made a mistake. He denied such, saying he was voting with his “conscience” for the very first time since being sworn in as an MP back in 2015. The government side asked for a time out to remonstrate with Persaud. This was denied after a quick check of the rules. Persaud reiterated his Yes vote and the motion was carried as most on the administration’s side were even too stunned to weep, some too upset to react while the two flanking him slapped and cuffed him harder than usual to push him to reverse his vote. At least two MP’s let out expletives as developments unfolded. Called a modern day Judas by many in the society, Persaud was whisked away from the chamber and left the precincts through a back entrance and to the airport when he flew to Canada. “I have voted already,” he said as colleagues shouted “no Charrandass, no, no. Say yes. You can still change your vote.”
The upending of the administration represented sweet revenge for the Indo-dominated PPP. Back in 2015, the combined opposition had one more seat than the PPP as well and filed papers for a no confidence vote. The PPP did not show up. Rather, it dissolved parliament and called fresh general elections that the opposition, now the outgoing coalition, won much to the delight of a country. Guyana back then, had clearly grown weary and embarrassed by the PPP with credible domestic and international allegations of widespread corruption, graft, nepotism, its closeness to the narco trade and a host of other ills including protection for private hit men.
The toppling of the administration now means that the country must go back to the polls after just three and a half years. The PPP was clearly emboldened by the fact that it picked up seven city council seats in the November mid terms in what has for decades been stronghold areas of parties in the coalition. A mere 30 percent of voters bothered to show up to vote. PPP supporters did so in numbers a bit greater than its nemesis and so was the overall winner, handsomely so.
And despite the fact that voters must go back to the polls by March, the elections commission might hold the key to when the date as it has to get into a state of readiness similar to what had occurred in 2015 when the PPP ran from the floor debate and vote.
As for the coalition, its members are openly wondering how a government which is preparing to be swimming in oil revenues from as early as next year could fall so hard, so quickly and so embarrassingly.