Voters should be allowed to choose between the 1966 and 1980 constitutions

Dear Editor,

This refers to your news item on President Jagdeo’s support for a strong executive presidency (SN, Jul 11) as he stated in a press conference.  In countries with an executive president, certain powers belong to the executive because of the very nature of the office and the power.  I agree with the President that the title must come with strong powers.  However, I believe that the powers of the President should be balanced against the powers of the legislature and the judicial branch as in the US.  I also think we need a strong fourth branch (free press), which we do have, and a strong fifth branch (civil society holding the government accountable) which in Guyana is very weak compared with the US or Brazil or Argentina, etc.

I am not sure the country needs an executive presidency. I do not have a problem with an executive presidency but I have a problem with the way this Burnham constitution was foisted on the population without their assent. A fraudulent referendum was held in July 1978 (with only 10% voting for it) and a constitution was promulgated without the people’s permission in December 1980. Prior to 1992, all the then opposition parties opposed the Burnhamite constitution.  It was agreed that after the restoration of democracy, the constitution would be redrafted and put to a vote.  Dr Jagan gave me his word in an interview in New York and repeated it in another interview at Freedom House. After the elections, he went back on his word saying that he would not violate people’s rights and would not become a dictator.  He could not throw out the baby with the bath water.

All the former PCD parties have gone back on their word on changing the constitution, hoping they would inherit the vast powers of the presidency should they win a plurality of votes. They are eternally hopeful they will win a plurality.  So they have not been advocating constitutional change.  They are comfortable with the fraudulent constitution. None of them has gone to court to challenge the legitimacy of the Burnham constitution.  The PPP candidate Donald Ramotar said should he be elected President, he will look into curtailing the powers of the presidency – the constitution grants more powers than the American president has.

It is my view that the parties should come to some agreement to ‘fix’ the constitution limiting executive power and put it as well as the independence constitution before the people for a vote in a referendum.  Allow the people to choose between the two constitutions.  Since the parties support the 1980 Burnham constitution, it won’t be much of a problem for them to campaign for it and get it passed against the 1966 constitution.  Let us see what the voters think.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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