After mounting pressure from the public and other stakeholders, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change
Local Government Elections candidate Winston Harding
(APNU/AFC) coalition has withdrawn its support from embattled Local Government Elections candidate Winston Harding, who has faced multiple charges of child molestation. The candidate, who was never convicted for the alleged sexual offences, was listed as the party’s prospective representative for Georgetown’s Constituency 13 (East and West Ruimveldt) in Friday’s polls.
The party in a release late Wednesday evening explained that as a result of the alleged behaviour of Harding and the pattern of accusations over the years, his candidature cannot be supported. The coalition also posited that the party is “firmly against all forms of abuse especially the abuse of women, children and the elderly.”
“The Partnership takes seriously all allegations of abuse that are made against its members and supporters. In our 2015 manifesto, we clearly state and affirm that the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act must at all times be enforced without compromise or exception… APNU is cognisant of the fact that Mr Harding has not been convicted of any offence, but the gravity and nature of the accusations cannot be ignored or condoned,” the release added.
The coalition’s withdrawal of the embattled candidate was earlier on Wednesday hinted by People’s National Congress Reform General Secretary Oscar Clarke who when contacted told this publication that while Harding’s name was already listed on the ballot, he could still be disclaimed.
“Mr Harding’s name is already on the ballot but we can disclaim him but that doesn’t take his name off the ballot. GECOM would be able to tell if anything can be done at this stage, elections is Friday, he is a constituency candidate which means the only thing the party can do is to disclaim him… my position is whether he wins or not, we could decide that we’re not going to put him in,” expressed Clarke.
When the General Secretary was questioned as to if the party would issue its decision after the election, he stated that he “suspects so” but reiterated that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is the authority body which would have been able to pronounce at this late stage.
“You would have to ask GECOM what could be done at this stage but my understanding is, he is already on the ballot, if people decided to vote for him then the party could take a decision even if he’s elected to take him off,” stressed the PNCR General Secretary.
Constituency 14 (South Ruimveldt Park/Ruimveldt Industrial Estate) candidate for the main Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Marlyn Kennedy had earlier in the day expressed disappointment over the candidacy of Harding and questioned the leadership direction of the coalition.
“Their leadership is not professional as far as I see because you lead by example… I don’t think he (Harding) should be allowed to run for the candidacy if he has consistency in this matter, if somebody in that capacity that has that kind of character is running for a candidate, it doesn’t show good,” Kennedy had earlier posited.
Team Benschop for Mayor lead candidate Mark Benschop spoke on the issue also and said that while the matter was one for the coalition, persons with such allegations should not be allowed to be part of the elections process.
“That’s a matter for the APNU/AFC coalition, GECOM and the electorate to decide; however, we do believe that individuals such as Harding should have been pulled in for fitness by the party a long time ago… now that the relevant Minister is saying that it is a private matter, that is of grave concern to all Guyanese, it is not a private matter. She is there to protect the interest of children and we cannot have a candidate who is being accused of molesting a child be part of this system,” expressed Benschop.
He had also observed that voters will “make a decision that is right for their constituency.” According to media reports, Harding was first charged for molesting an eight-year old in 1999. The man’s sister, Sharon Harding told Stabroek News that she was the relative who informed the court of her brother’s previous charges.
Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence reportedly “cautioned” Sharon Harding over her brother’s campaign material being relabelled with a “Child Molester” slogan. Guyana Times was unsuccessful in garnering a response from the woman who supposedly has spent years trying to attain “justice” for those who have accused the man. Efforts to contact the Social Protection Minister on Wednesday also proved futile.