Ramkarran says he backs presidential term limits

Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says he supports the presidential term limit, explaining that it is an important factor in democratic systems.

“I am in support of term limits,” Ramkarran said in a recent interview with Stabroek News, citing “Guyana’s special history.”  Ramkarran, who has indicated his interest in being the ruling PPP’s presidential candidate for next year’s general elections, noted that term limits are now an important factor in democratic systems, particularly in Africa.

Recently, the PPP has had to contend with moves by a group calling itself the Guyanese Coalition For Jagdeo Third Term to mobilise support for the call, which is at odds with the party’s advocacy for the term limit during the constitutional reform process a decade ago. President Bharrat Jagdeo has publicly denied interest, saying people should serve and move on.

Asked whether he would go further than the 1999-2000 constitution reform process in reducing the powers of the president, Ramkarran noted that people who complain about the powers of the president must specify their concerns. “Nobody has said what exactly they are complaining about,” he noted. However, recently he suggested the restoration of Cabinet’s decision-making authority, in order to dispel unease about the powers of the president. He said it would formally reduce the president’s powers by making him/her primus inter pares (the first among equals), noting that Cabinet could then formally defeat a proposal or initiative by the president which it cannot do now. “If you sit and contemplate that, you will see what an enormous step that is in answering the allegation that the president is all-powerful,” he said, “he or she will not be all-powerful after that. The Cabinet will be all powerful. I am surprised it has not been taken up. That argument can be accommodated in one sentence but the implication is enormous.”

Ramkarran has also suggested that Article 182(2), which protects the president from acts done in his/her private capacity, should be repealed. He said Article 182(1), which provides immunity from liability for acts done in the course of performing his/her duty, is adequate, and in accordance with immunities provided for chairpersons and members of constitutional bodies. “It is not needed,” he said, referring to Article 182(2), “that was necessary for a time when you had a system in which the elections were rigged.” He added that he believes the immunities were retained post-1992 as a result of fears fuelled by political violence. “Those fears were reinforced in 1997, that presidents are going to be attacked-I don’t mean physically-so that the protection was needed,” he explained, “but it is clear now that having come to this stage that those protections are not needed.”

He has also suggested that Article 182(3), which protects a former President from a limitation of time to institute proceedings, could be repealed to allay concerns about current immunities.

Meanwhile, Ramkarran said he was disappointed that the National Assembly’s Con-stitution Reform Committee has not met. “I don’t feel happy it has not met,” he said, noting “There is a chairperson of the Committee who should convene meetings.” At the same time, he suggested that the chair might argue that there is no agenda for which to convene a meeting. He further noted that the country cannot be changing its constitution constantly, noting the work already done during the constitution reform process. He added that while not everyone was satisfied with it, and there are genuine and important concerns, “We went as far as we could go at that time. We got agreement as far as possible at that time. Another time will come when public debate reaches a pitch that forces action. When public debate, public concern, public pressure meets a pitch that requires public action then a process will continue.”

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