Vishnu Bisram feels that we should scrap the 1980 constitution instead of changing it and we should revert to the 1966 constitution. I agree with Mr Bisram in principle that sweeping constitutional change is necessary. We differ in some respects with regard to getting there. I have spent the better part of the last week since the election reading the Guyana Constitution several times over. The 1966 constitution has flaws fundamental to every colonialist Westminster constitution and cannot be used in a wholesale fashion. Guyana has to build its own constitution anew, a process that could take years of consultation.
There remain essential issues that surround constitutional reform that will need public discourse to amplify and settle before we can cement the results into constitutional sanctity. Any delay in constructing a constitution afresh from the ashes of this country leaves us with the reality of the destructive powers of the presidency. The powers of the presidency have to be curtailed early to set the tone for improved democracy.
For the sake of the Guyanese people, APNU and AFC must use article 164 within the next six months and after the budget bill early next year to call a referendum on sweeping constitutional change that is focused on altering the powers of the presidency. They have to. No ‘ands’, ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it. Those immediate changes will establish a new restorative take on democracy.
Why the referendum to cut the powers of the presidency? Well, Mr Bisram and his NACTA organization polled Guyanese on constitutional reform in 2003 and 70% wanted constitutional reform. These are the kinds of polls Bisram should stick to and not try to create a tsunami of support for the PPP by self-fulfilling prophetic polling. In these times where the desperation for change has caused political upheaval in Guyana with a minority government, I daresay that percentage is higher than 70%. Donald Ramotar would be politically suicidal to try to block the desire of the staggering majority of the electorate. Once passed, the referendum allows for a rebirth in Guyana. It also allows for stakeholders to commence working on building a new constitution the old-fashioned way with hard slogging and years in the consultation trenches.
If one reads the current constitution, there are some good aspects those should be retained. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water. We will eventually get to the ceremonial figurehead executive authority such as the President, but for now, stripping the presidency in the short term is our best bet. No president should be able to strip a Guyanese of their citizenship, prorogue and dissolve Parliament, appoint judges and have a unilateral right to reject legislation passed by an elected Parliament.