Urgency to fill Opposition Leader post could see Norton being blanked; Gov’t says ‘get on with it’
By Kurt Campbell
The APNU+AFC Coalition Opposition was hit by surprise with the immediate resignation of Joseph Harmon as Opposition Leader on Wednesday, mere hours before the government presented the 2022 National Budget.
Although the ultimate aim is to replace Harmon with Aubrey Norton as Leader of the Opposition, a current opposition Parliamentarian has warned that the urgency with which the post needs to be filled could see Norton being blanked.
Harmon had been pressured for some time to give up the post after losing the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R) leadership race to Norton but his resignation has further complicated the way forward on resolving the leadership confusion in the Opposition.
The Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) who spoke to the News Room under anonymity on Thursday explained that the six parties within the APNU+AFC were currently consulting among themselves on filling the post after which they will consult as one unit.
These consultations mean a delay in filling the post, a delay that some Opposition MPs feel should not be extended to allow for Norton to become Opposition Leader.
The issue is that although Norton is the leader of the PNC/R – the largest party in the APNU+AFC coalition – he is not a current Member of Parliament, but he could be having been named on the coalition’s National Top-Up List at the 2020 elections.
He would have to be extracted from that list but although Harmon has resigned as Opposition Leader, he remains an MP which also means that someone would have to vacate their seat in the National Assembly to allow for Norton’s entry.
But who would be so considerate?
Some of the MPs are ruled out from vacating their seats; they include the 12 geographic MPs, nine MPs who represent the Alliance for Change (AFC) and Tabitha-Sarabo Halley of Guyana Nation Builders. That rules out a total of 22 of the current 31 APNU+AFC Parliamentarians.
If no one vacates their seat to facilitate Norton in Parliament, then the PNC/R, after meaningful consultations, could recommend an MP to be recalled. That recommendation will have to be sent to the Representative of the List – former President David Granger – for action to be taken. Granger, who has not engaged Norton on the issue as their relations remain strained, will make the final decision.
These dynamics show why Norton’s entrance into the National Assembly is further complicated and could further delay the process of electing a new Opposition Leader.
That person, in any event, will likely come from the PNC/R although the AFC has several seasoned Parliamentarians.
Party sources believe that the best person for the position would be one of the lawyers – Roysdale Forde, SC and Amanza Walton Desir.
The duo, just like Harmon, did not get a lot of votes at the recently concluded PNC/R leadership elections with Forde having to be co-opted to the Central Executive Committee.
“The office has to be filled with urgency so there is a smooth continuation of the work of the Opposition Leader,” the party source noted.
GET ON WITH IT
Meanwhile, Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Gail Teixeira weighed in on the issue Wednesday night and urged the Opposition to “get on with it.”
She said the government hadn’t a preference on who should fill the post and if Norton replaces Harmon, then he will be treated with the respect he deserves.
“The resignation is internal politics. The House doesn’t need to have a Leader of the Opposition to proceed on the budget or anything like that… for the PPP the APNU has to make the decision. They could go to Norton they could go to someone else. Our job is to do what we have to do and stay focused,” Teixeira told the News Room.
The government Chief Whip said once the post is filled, then the proof will be in the pudding.
“We see the behaviour [of opposition MPs] in the house and I don’t think it will change. They have to fix a number of things internally.
“We are not going to be obsessed with this,” Teixeira noted.