Mr Emile Mervin’s letter which was published in the Kaieteur News on December 25, 2008, is a welcome and instructive intervention in the renewed public debate on the issue of shared governance in Guyana. Mervin raised many important points that should not be ignored.
I agree with Mervin’s contention that any move to shared governance that does not have the support of the masses is a retrogressive step. For me, the people’s support for shared governance is of paramount importance if it is to succeed as an effective political instrument to unite the nation and allow for the full realization of the country’s economic and social potential.
Unlike Mervin who questions whether the masses will give their support to a mainly PPP/C-PNCR shared governance deal, my political judgment is that both the African and Indian masses would, in the absence of a better solution, albeit reluctantly, give the leaders of their respective parties the benefit of the doubt. People in Guyana are becoming burnt out by the country’s protracted political and economic crisis. I wish to make it very clear that what I have just enunciated should not be construed as an argument in support of a PPP/C-PNCR bilateral agreement that excludes the other political forces and stakeholders in the country from participating in a shared governance arrangement, since that approach will also exclude the participation of the indigenous people, the rightful owners of the country.
A national referendum to allow the people to say whether they support a PPP/C-PNCR or another form of shared governance has my full, unreserved support since this will be the best democratic way to allow for the masses’ involvement and ownership of the process. We should not underestimate the transformational effects of such a political exercise – Guyana will never be the same politically. Imagine this scenario: both the PPP/C and the PNCR, jointly and/or separately, campaigning throughout the county for the same political solution. On the other hand if the two major parties stick to their present public postures of the PNCR for shared governance and the PPP/C opposed to its implementation, and their supporters vote for the party position it will underscore the need for a political solution and add greater urgency for a resolution of the problem.
I do not share the concern that in a shared-governance solution there will be no political opposition. Whether the arrangement is one, which is brokered in a bilateral agreement between the PPP/C and the PNCR that is sanctioned by the people voting in a country-wide referendum or, is one, the tenets of which flowed out of wide ranging discussions between all stakeholders, it will not prevent those forces in the country − political or civic − who are not in the government, from constituting the opposition, if they so chose. I strongly believe that in a new dispensation which ushers in shared governance as the way forward, the country’s constitutional arrangements will ensure representation in the national parliament based on votes received. A party or parties that failed to secure the requisite votes for inclusion in the government will constitute the parliamentary opposition.
In agreeing with the “proponents of shared governance” that ethnic voting is a problem and it is used to justify calls for changes in the political system to one of shared governance, Mervin went on to suggest that “had the PPP not gotten into power and began governing like as though it was elected to dictate… shared governance would be the least of the concerns of the proponents for a shared governance solution.” Mr Mervin may be right in relation to some proponents of shared governance, but not all. Many of us have called for that solution even when the PNC was in power. More importantly, many organizations including the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) made calls for shared governance long before the PPP/C’s return to office.
Shared governance should not be treated as a trivial matter or the cry of the opposition simply for a share of power. Instead, it should be seen as a serious attempt to address the failure for more than 50 years of our political system to unite and reconcile the people of this nation.
Guyana is today a nation at a historic crossroads where the political system enshrined in the constitution has proven to be inadequate to deal with the challenges of national development that are rooted both in the past and the present. I very often ask the question − how could our present winner-take-all political system give justice to the dreams and aspirations of our Indigenous People? As long as they remain outside of the stream of political power and for as long as they are denied real control over the resources on their lands, this important 12% of our population will continue to be pawns in the political chess game. These anomalies can and will only be addressed through the implementation of a political system that dignifies them as a people.
For me, shared governance is also not simply a matter for the PPP/C and PNCR as major political parties to indulge in political semantics. More importantly, it has to do with the real concerns of ethnic communities that are locked in political and economic competition as a result of colonial exploitation and oppression. Resolution of these contradictions must I believe, be of paramount importance if Guyana is to emerge and survive as a modern and progress country.
Finally, while I agree with Mr Emile Mervin on the need for educating the masses against the problems that are inherent with racial voting and the need for a political party/movement which has the confidence of the multi-racial masses of Guyana, the reality is that this will not happen in the short or medium term. Constitutional reform to bring about shared governance is a vital tool in the political education of Guyanese for meaningful change.