Opposition should struggle for constitutional reform instead of participating in elections

Dear Editor,
Permit me to share with fellow readers what I believe are some of the advantages the political opposition will have if they choose to engage in a constitutional struggle which is based on mass protests to win shared governance, instead of participating in an elections contest in 2011 without the required constitutional changes. To go the route of participating without the requisite constitutional changes is in my opinion, reckless and foolhardy. In outlining my perspectives on this issue I have attempted to simplify the arguments so that all citizens can follow the points I have raised and be able to participate in the discussions/debates, which I am hoping will result from what I am saying and recommending as the way forward.

(1) My first point is that elections in Guyana have historically, polarized the masses along party and racial lines. A constitutional struggle for shared governance has a greater chance of uniting broad sections of the people across race and party under a common objective where there are no losers.

(2) In exercising the electoral option without constitutional changes, the opposition will force the various factions in the ruling PPP/C to unite because elections in this situation raises the issue of the party losing power. One of the things which Guyanese must understand is that the PPP/C loves power and knows what it has to do to hold unto it. The constitutional struggle will have a different effect on the infighting in the PPPC. It will allow the internal contradictions within the party to develop and sharpen since this form of struggle allows the ruling party the alternative of sharing power with other political and social forces.

(3) Elections allow all the advantages of incumbency and the abuse of state resources to help the PPP/C elections efforts while marginalizing the opposition. Constitutional struggle will negate these advantages, rendering them to a great extent, irrelevant.

(4) Elections allow the drug cartels to throw their support behind the PPP/C, including their financial and logistic support and their ability to intimidate sections of the populace and selected individuals. While I accept the difficulty in bringing a halt to this kind of support, I believe that a constitutional struggle if properly engaged can create new contradictions between the drug lords, the ruling party/government and the USA. The cartels in trying to prop up the government run the risk of provoking a more intense response from the US and other Western Powers, thereby putting themselves and the regime in a difficult situation. This will benefit the opposition and the people.

(5) Elections signal that there is business as usual, in other words everything is hunky dory, normalcy, prevails in the society. This allows the rulers to exercise great influence on the judiciary. A constitutional struggle, in which the opposition and the masses are carrying out various forms of mass protest, will put pressure on the courts. This could force the judiciary to resist government intervention in judicial processes.

(6) Elections allow the PPP/C and government to exercise the option to negotiate or not to do so. A constitutional struggle can create a new situation in the country where there is no elections and the regime’s mandate expires thereby putting the rulers and the opposition on a more level playing field. In this kind of situation the PPP/C becomes vulnerable and is more likely to make the necessary compromise.

(7) Elections make it easy for the international community to support the government in spite of its known violations of citizens’ human rights, the constitution and the rule of law on the grounds that the government is duly elected.  Constitutional struggle will force the International community to reassess the situation in Guyana and opens the possibility of a shift in favour of the people and the opposition.

(8) While elections give legality to the PPP/C domination of the country, the constitutional struggle challenges the domination by questioning the government’s repressive approach to governance.

(9) Elections allow the government to maintain its control of the society from a position of maximum strength. A Constitutional engagement will alter the equation and give the people and the opposition more power in the process.

(10) Elections empower the political/criminal elite that influence the state and disempowered the masses. Constitutional struggle will empower the people, opposition and civil society forces and isolate the regime.

(11) By participating in the Elections which will not defeat the ruling party, the opposition will be doing a disservice to the nation and in particular the younger generation since we will be passing on the historical political/racial crisis to a generation which has not been prepared to deal with this problem. The constitutional struggle will mean that we, who are better placed to settle the problem, will do so by fulfilling our historic mission of putting the country on the road to economic and social progress, equality and justice for all, and the institution of a political system of shared governance, thereby opening the door to national reconciliation – now.

(12) Elections marginalize women and youth using them to give legitimacy to the system while frustrating their aspirations. On the other hand a constitutional struggle will gave these categories of citizens more power in helping to shape the political and social process. No successful struggle is possible without the active involvement of these groups. The categories of citizens I have just referred to will be better placed to defend their interest in the new dispensation and will have a bigger say in the future of the country.

(13) Elections allow the business community to engage in opportunist politicking giving huge financial support to the ruling party in order to ensure its victory. Their only interest is self interest – profits.

A constitutional struggle, because it brings about instability, will force the business community to assert itself politically in the interest of its own survival and that of the nation. Such a development strengthens the masses and the opposition by taking away a major support base of the regime.

(14) The election option while attractive as a means to an end, will not, under the present electoral scenario, bring about a change of government in Guyana.

In the context of our historic political and racial polarization and the massive advantages of incumbency enjoyed by the ruling party, to expect a change in government given our winner take all electoral system is to indulge oneself in fantasy and illusions. It is not even like a lottery where, once you have a ticket you have a chance of winning. The truth is that the odds are stocked massively against the opposition forces winning.

A constitutional struggle, while requiring more energy and sacrifices on the part of the opposition and the masses, in our situation is the only viable means to bring about political change and shared governance.

While this is not an exhaustive list of advantages and disadvantages of elections versus constitutional struggle, I think that the above is sufficient to make a case for the opposition and the masses in Guyana to exercise the constitutional option and reject the electoral road whose only beneficiaries are the rulers. In a nut shell, the PPP/C’s hands are strengthened in an election contest under the existing system, while the interests of the opposition and the people in the country will be enhanced in a mass protest struggle for constitutional changes for shared governance.

Yours faithfully,
Tacuma Ogunseye

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