Majoritarian government is the worst form of democracy for Guyana

Dear Editor,
We in Guyana, like everywhere else on the planet, live by a ‘social contract.’ Today, in Guyana, our social contract, our constitution and our democracy have no integrity, no substance, no legal bearing, and no meaning to the lives of ordinary Guyanese. We have an illusionary contract and a delusionary king. Systematic evasion of constitutional checks and balances have become the new modus operandi; illegality and immorality have become the norm; decency .has long been discarded and indecency has become the new currency of daily life.

The primary deformity in our social contract lies in the executive presidency/Westminster constitution that has been imposed on us by a ‘ruling minority.’ The essence of this deformity is that we have been brainedwashed to believe that democracy means the ‘rule of the majority.’ But what is democracy? And why have we been so brainwashed to believe that majority rights are more important than minority rights in a democracy?

In its most basic sense, democracy as articulated by Abraham Lincoln implies a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Unlike other types of government, democracy claims to allow the people themselves to rule, to make the decisions that govern their lives. The people are to decide their own destiny through their participation in the political process.

There are two models of democracy that have been debated for quite some time: the majoritarian model and the consensus model. The majoritarian interpretation of democracy argues that majorities should govern and minorities should oppose. This model gives very little credence to the concept of the consent of the governed, especially if a large minority exists. This concept is incompatible with the daily reality that most governments are elected by a minority and that most governments are influenced by the ‘rich’ minority. Today, it is the minority which possesses immense wealth and money and which rules the so-called democratic world. Majority rule is simply a myth and an illusion.

The fundamental issue for most who oppose majority rule is that it is unfair because the majority can legalize what they want, no matter how unfair it is to others. The majority can also criminalize what they don’t want, no matter how unfair it might be to minorities.
Strangely enough, in Guyana, we have the morally indecent and ludicrous situation of an executive presidency that is a majority of one. This peculiar governance deformity has led us down the path of elected and unelected dictatorships of a ‘minority’ majority of one. The PPP claims Guyana has one of the most inclusive constitutions in the world. This global propaganda has made Guyana a diplomatic laughing stock. We have an executive President who is the Minister of Communications, Minister of Finance (1998-2006); Minister of the Environment, Minister of Energy, and Minister of Foreign Affairs when he chooses to − but this Minister does not sit in Parliament where all ministers are constitutionally dictated to be, and  is immune from prosecution but not removal. Guyana is a thus  a jokers’ wild constitutional  hocus-pocus paradise. Our constitution has reduced most Guyanese, with the exception of a minority, to what David Hinds once termed  “political slavery.” Others who are not in slavery are in political indentured servitude.

A great West Indian and Nobel prize-winning economist Sir Arthur Lewis has been foremost in challenging the  majoritarian interpretation  of democracy. Sir Arthur championed the consensus model of democracy by arguing, majority rule and the government-versus-opposition pattern of government that it implies, may be interpreted as undemocratic because they are principles of exclusion.

Sir Arthur stated that the primary meaning of democracy is that “all who are affected by a decision should have the chance to participate in making that decision, either directly or through chosen representatives.” According to him, “democracy’s secondary meaning is that the will of the majority shall prevail.” If this means that the winning parties may make all the governmental decisions and that the losers may only criticize but not govern, Lewis argued, the two meanings are incompatible. To exclude the losing groups from participation in decision-making clearly violates the primary meaning of democracy. He therefore argues instead for a consensus democracy:

Sir Arthur’s consensus view of democracy is especially important in countries like Guyana. He argued, “especially in plural societies that are sharply divided along religious, ideological, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, or racial lines into virtually separate sub societies with their own political parties, interest groups, and media of communication the flexibility necessary for majoritarian democracy is absent. Under these conditions, majority rule is not only undemocratic but also dangerous, because minorities that are continuously denied access to power will feel excluded and discriminated against and will lose their allegiance to the regime. In plural societies, therefore, majority rule spells majority dictatorship and civil strife rather than democracy. What these societies need is a democratic regime that emphasizes consensus instead of opposition, that includes rather than excludes, and that tries to maximize the size of the ruling majority instead of being satisfied with a bare majority: consensus democracy.”

Majoritarian democracy as practised through the executive presidency/Westminster model in Guyana is the worst form of governance for a multicultural Guyana where all groups are racial minorities.

The last election saw the PPP gaining power with just over 180,000 votes, which has allowed total control of Guyana’s destiny and its population of 750,000. Because of the number of voters who participated in the elections, the PPP has won with a 56 % majority. This has allowed the PPP to have the executive presidency as well as full control of the cabinet, parliament and the judiciary. Through President Jagdeo being the Minister of Communications, the PPP also has total control over the fourth estate, the media.
In Guyana, we have long forgotten the words of the great Martin Luther King, Jr: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Our electoral system is an injustice.

Will Guyanese continue to have this injustice continue? What legacy are we leaving for our children?
It is time to stop this anti-democracy in Guyana masquerading as a Republic. It is time for civil society and all caring Guyanese to demand a stop to this façade, this illusion, this magnificent masquerade we call the executive presidency. At the next elections, citizens must demand a legally binding contract among all political parties to get rid of this indecency, this gross monstrosity.
Yours faithfully,
Eric Phillips

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