“All possibilities on the table” – Patterson on AFC coalescing with APNU for 2025 polls

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Former Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson

With the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) – the largest party in the parliamentary Opposition Coalition – contemplating contesting the 2025 elections independently, the Alliance For Change – the minority Opposition party – says its executive members will soon meet to discuss whether they too are interested in heading to the polls solo.

This is according to newly elected Chairman of the AFC, David Patterson. He told this publication on Wednesday that the party will soon meet its parliamentary opposition partner, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) which includes the PNC.

However, he noted the AFC, which elected new leadership at its biennial conference last weekend, needs to do some in-house work before that meeting with its coalition partner which is likely to happen later this month.

“We’ll deal [with that meeting] within the next two weeks because we’re meeting with the individual AFC regions right now to assess their strengths and their readiness and their needs and those things like that. And then after that, we’ll meet with our bigger partners. So, before mid-month – in the next week or two [we’ll meet with the Coalition partners],” Patterson related.

The PNC-led APNU had coalesced with the AFC for the 2015 elections, which they won. The two parties then went back to the polls as a coalition in 2020 but lost.

The AFC, subsequently, formally broke its coalition deal with APNU back in December 2022. The revised Cummingsburg Accord, a political agreement between the two parties, had provided for this separation. At the time, former AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan had indicated that the two parties would do their political work separately but work in parliament jointly.

Asked about the AFC’s position on returning to the polls as a coalition, Patterson said his party has not discuss this matter as yet but added that they are open to all the possibilities available.

“[It’s still] early days on that… [But] all scenarios are still on the table. We’re still open to going alone; we’re still open to coalition talks; we’re still open to having a grand umbrella if other parties want to come and join the AFC as a grouping. All the possibilities are on the table,” the AFC Chairman posited.

Meanwhile, only days prior to his election as the new AFC leader, Nigel Hughes, had said during an interview that before the party prepares for next year’s polls, it must first conduct an assessment of the period leading up to, during and after the 2020 elections to determine what went wrong in order to avoid repeating the mistakes that led to the then coalition being voted out of office.

The new leader is facing heat over his recent election with criticisms mounting about possible conflict of interest between his political and professional careers.

Days prior to the AFC’s National Conference, Hughes, who is a civil and criminal lawyer, admitted that United States oil giant, ExxonMobil, along with several other oil companies operating in Guyana, are clients of his law firm – Hughes, Fields & Stoby.

On Sunday, Hughes told online news agency, Demerara Waves Online, that he would not sever ties with his law firm even as he embarks on his political career that could potentially see him holding a post in government office.

Hughes’ statements on Sunday sparked a response from Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, who pointed to the potential risks that the new AFC Leader’s posture could bring.

“Nigel Hughes obviously did not read the definition of politically exposed persons in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act 2009,” Jagdeo, who is also the General Secretary of the ruling People’s Progressive Party stated.

In the Act, a ‘politically exposed person’ is described as “any individual who is or has been entrusted with prominent public functions on behalf of a state, including a head of state or of government, senior politicians, senior government, judicial or military officials, senior executives of state-owned corporations, important political party officials, including family members or close associates of the politically exposed person whether that person is a resident in Guyana or not.”

In December 2018, when the no-confidence motion was passed in the National Assembly against the David Granger Administration, Hughes had sparked a contentious debate, exacerbated by legal and procedural challenges that had significantly delayed the country’s electoral process. Central to this debate was Hughes’ argument that, mathematically, one half of the House when divided stands at 32.5 members. “There is no such thing as a half member, so half of the House is 33 members…this is because you have to round up to identify half of the House,” he had said, mere days after the no-confidence motion was passed.

Therefore, he posited that 34 is the majority of the 65-member House rather than 33.The aftermath of the motion as a result of this argument had been marked by legal challenges, appeals, and judicial decisions that extended beyond the constitutionally-mandated three-month deadline. In June 2019, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down its decision that 33, not 34, was the majority of the 65-member House.

Contesting independently

The AFC’s position comes on the heels of Aubrey Norton, who was recently re-elected as Leader of the PNC – the largest party in the APNU faction, saying during a recent interview that his party is considering contesting the 2025 elections independently.

“In politics, you never say ‘no’. You have to analyse the situation, and as it emerges, you make the decisions. We are open to coalition, but we are a strong enough party that if we have to go [on our own], we can do that,” Norton said in a live interview on a local radio station.

Norton, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, also indicated that he is interested in commencing discussions with the newly elected AFC Leader, Nigel Hughes

“I think we must,” he said when asked directly if he will be engaged with Hughes.

“I don’t see no reason why we shouldn’t. I’m prepared to talk with anybody,” the PNC leader added.

But even as Norton insists that the PNC is superior to the other parties in the parliamentary Opposition coalition, he was recently booted as the Chairman of APNU.

Last month, the parties within the APNU coalition – the Guyana Action Party (GAP), Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the Justice for All Party (JFAP), the National Democratic Front, Equal Rights and Justice Party, and the Guyana Nation Builders Movement – held a meeting and elected GAP’s Vincent Henry as the new Chairman of APNU, a move which the PNC had deemed “null and void” since they were not aware of the elections.

However, Norton has maintained that he is still the leader of the APNU coalition.

“I am still the chairman,” Norton insisted, adding “If you have a political movement, and one section of the movement has 90 per cent of the votes. In the APNU, the only political party that can claim to have ever gained significant votes to form a government is the PNCR.”

On another note, during its biennial congress last weekend, the PNC had passed a motion supporting that its leader be the presidential candidate at the 2025 polls but Norton said he is willing to step aside.

However, he explained that any new presidential candidate must be someone from within the PNC – should the party decide to contest as an APNU coalition.

“Which political party will have more than 90 per cent of the support of the Opposition [and] will give its power to 5 per cent or 10 per cent? It makes no sense. So, when I speak of a consensual candidate, I speak of a consensual candidate as it relates to the PNC. I don’t see us as a political party giving to a party that has never in this country gotten 15 per cent of the votes.”

Meanwhile, days after the PNC Congress ended, votes for the party’s 15-member Central Executive Committee were still being counted as of Wednesday.

Based on reports, there were 60 nominees on each ballot from which party members had to pick 15.

Efforts to contract the Returning Officer of the PNC Congress, Vincent Alexander, were futile but it was reported that the counting of those more than 1,000 ballots is ongoing.