With APNU contesting the upcoming elections on a platform of shared governance and power-sharing in the form of a Government of National Unity (GNU), the debate on the merits and demerits of this idea has resurfaced. Despite what the sceptics say, there are at least four clear benefits of a GNU for Guyana.
Perhaps the foremost benefit of a Government of National Unity is its potential for ensuring that no ethnic group dominates the other politically and by extension culturally and economically. In Guyana the executive branch has evolved as the engine of government with the other two branches serving for the most part in a supplementary manner. One can argue with much justification that there has been an executive supremacy that borders on executive tyranny. The party which wins the election gets a majority in the parliament, which then gives it automatic control of the executive branch. This guarantees the governing party enormous power, which in a situation of ethnic polarisation is an unfair advantage that eventually leads to authoritarianism or democratic exclusion. With the built-in parliamentary majority, government bills are guaranteed passage unless there is a revolt among government parliamentarians, which has never occurred in Guyana.
However, with both parties in the cabinet the fear of the power of the executive by the minority would be greatly diminished. Since ethnic insecurity is premised on the fear of domination, institutional assurances of security will most likely lead to a decrease in the intensity of this fear. Because the executive branch of the government has a monopoly on decision-making within the Guyanese state, it has become the symbol of domination along class, gender and ethnic lines. Given the fact that ethnicity has greatly influenced political behaviour in Guyana since 1955, control of the government is seen largely, though not exclusively, in ethnic terms. The power of the state in determining economic policy and distributing resources places it in an extremely powerful position. In an economy in which the state is the largest employer and the private sector is relatively small, the power of the executive is enhanced.
This leads to a second benefit of a Government of National Unity – the enlarging of multiethnic space. The creation of multiethnic space in ethnically polarized societies is directly linked to ethnic security. When ethnic insecurity is high multiethnic space contracts, and when it decreases multi-ethnic space grows. The PPP’s retreat from the power-sharing pact with the opposition parties and its refusal to enter into a similar pact with the PNC after the 1992 election greatly decreased multiethnic space. The consequence was the heightening of ethnic insecurity and conflict that exploded in the wake of the 1997 election and has since all but consumed the society. The removal of the threat of political domination would most likely decrease the ethnic temperature.
A third benefit of a Government of National Unity is its potential for the enhancement of democratization within the government. One of the problems of governance in the Caribbean, despite its general adherence to the tenets of formal democracy is the concomitant monopoly of power by the ruling party and the exclusion of the opposition. This democratic exclusion has led to a virtual one-party democracy, which has had negative consequences for the rule of law, respect for civil liberties, government accountability, economic management and development, political stability and national sovereignty. In ethnically polarized societies democratic exclusion and one-party democracy often mean ethnic exclusion and domination. The ruling party’s obsession with remaining in power to protect the ‘race‘ leads to it being unaccountable to either its constituency or that of the opposing parties. Further, the guaranteed ethnic support regardless of the quality of governance makes the government more likely to overreach. On the other hand opposition perception and reality of marginalization drive it to extra-parliamentary tactics, which are then crushed by the government. While power-sharing in the executive does not automatically lead to democratization of the other two branches, it stands a better chance of facilitating this. Increased separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches would lead to more checks and balances than currently exist.
A fourth benefit of a Government of National Unity is that it brings the opposition off the streets into the formal councils of government, thus denying the government the excuse that it is under siege and the opposition of charges that its supporters are ethnically marginalized. With both groups in the executive branch, majoritarianism gives way to a more consensus form of democracy.