The constitution has allowed the PPP to act like a majority when it only won a minority

Dear Editor,

Carl Greenidge stated as follows: “Without a majority in the House the party with the plurality of votes and its cabinet can have no automatic claim on the executive, let alone exclusive powers of decision-making. It has to find an ally” (‘There is a contradiction between the strategy the opposition parties are expected to pursue and their actual powers,’ SN, Feb 3). This is incorrect.  Maybe, just maybe, it is this erroneous interpretation that symptomised the PNC’s thinking when it failed to change this constitution although it knew it was going to fall from power in 1992. The constitution allows for a party that wins a plurality to form the executive and to hold the presidency with absolutist powers. There is no two ways around it. The constitution was written from an absolute power perspective where the PNC never contemplated it would fall from power because it was able to rig elections at will. What Mr Greenidge really should be doing is blaming the PNC for creating and then failing to fix this constitutional debacle rather than trying to pass off this interpretation of the constitution as valid. The PNC created and perpetuated this mess.

It is the PNC that has given the PPP the power to act like a majority even when it won a minority government. Mr Greenidge’s complaints about the PPP selecting a PPP-only cabinet are invalidated by the fact that the constitution allows the PPP to do exactly this. What the PNC did was to allow a fraudulent constitution derived from an illegitimate referendum supported by at most 20% of the population in 1978 to become law, not only for itself but for its sworn political enemy. The PPP behaves as if it has a majority because of this fraudulent constitution that enables it to behave in this fashion. The ‘loser takes all’ politics we get from the PPP is the reality of the land. However, for Mr Greenidge to try to argue that the current landscape prevents the opposition from altering the game because their actual powers are infringed is hollow. The opposition still retains powers to hold the PPP to account by passing laws that force the PPP to act or lose vital popular support, a danger to a party in electoral decline. The PPP cannot ever fail to act on legislation on anti-corruption, ethnic balance, anti-discrimination, financial oversight, electoral reform, Amerindian land issues and cost of living issues without losing more support.

Greenidge is again twisting the issue of the responsibility of the opposition when he talks about constitutional reform needing a two-thirds majority, which requires the support of the PPP. This is partially correct and partially wrong. Constitutional reform can be accomplished by a referendum bill passed by the opposition without the support of the PPP. Mr Greenidge’s admission of the PPP talking and doing more talking with the opposition while taking it for a ride, sums up the futility of the current exercise. It is in the PPP’s interest to use talks as a delaying tactic because it holds disproportionate power in relation to its electoral support through the presidency. The opposition has the power to call a referendum regardless of whatever games the PPP plays. Why not call a referendum on a single issue or a handful of issues that are  draconian and undemocratic such as the president’s right to dissolve or prorogue Parliament whenever he feels like it? This is a preposterous provision in the constitution that must be changed.

Mr Greenidge’s argument that, “In order to force the PPP into agreeing and implementing constitutional change opposition legislators would have to unite the two parties behind a programme that could bring down the government,” is ridiculous. This is a misleading statement that refuses to acknowledge the opportunities available to the opposition to bring the PPP to account without resort to constitutional endgames. That said, if the PPP government must be brought down so it must, but only after exhausting all available options. For the opposition to pursue this tactic without dealing with the passage of transformational legislation such as anti-corruption laws, attempting a referendum on the constitution and pushing the PPP harder in talks, will confirm the failure of the opposition to the people of Guyana. Who is to blame for the PPP not “being forced to come to the table with any serious and constructive intent”?  The idealism of Mr Greenidge is tragic. Does he really expect President Ramotar and the PPP to suddenly solve these issues? The PPP will only solve these issues when it faces political devastation and nothing devastates the PPP more than the fear of losing power.

The opposition was handed a gift when the PPP said it will do nothing to fix the current Amerindian Act. The response of the opposition has been silence. An amended Amerindian Act should have been presented in Parliament before the presidential benefits bill. There is a time and place for everything. The opposition does not seem to understand this concept. Mr Greenidge must know that throwing up excuses when there are opportunities to advance this country from the opposition seats disgusts Guyanese. People want action, not complaints.

If I were sitting in Parliament, I would have an anti-corruption law in Parliament by next week if asked. It is not rocket science. But it is rocket fuel to the opposition when the PPP refuses to sign it.

Yours faithfully,
M Maxwell

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