Hopefully our political leaders will rise to the occasion

In discussing many sociopolitical and socioeconomic issues over the years, I’ve always bemoaned Guyana’s political system and its inability to accommodate a public arena of engagement and enfranchisement where the values of peace, fairness and justice are actively championed. My cynicism has stemmed from numerous factors, including the fact that too much power is concentrated in the office of the executive president as a result of the 1980 constitution. Moreover, this has led to the executive branch interfering numerous times with the judiciary’s work. Additionally, the legislature – up until the recent elections – has always has been dominated by the ruling party, which passed laws despite the force of opposition protests and widespread walkouts.

The nation’s electoral system is flawed primarily because of a proportional representation list system, where parliamentarians are selected from a slate assembled by the ticket leaders to whom candidates owe their allegiance. It would be wiser to have a constituency system that emphasizes allegiance first to the needs and interests of respective constituencies. Moreover, the proportional representation list system does not address directly the ethnic voting realities in Guyana. As a result, the outcome often leads to zero-sum and winner-take-all contests dictated along ethnic lines.

As a form of personal protest against endorsing this system, I did not vote in the last general election. One legitimately cannot advocate for constitutional reform to overhaul the existing political system yet participate in the electoral aspect of it. The action would be akin to agreeing to enter a sporting contest knowing full well that the rules are stacked against oneself. The possibility exists that one might win the contest but also that one then would have to overcome enormous and monumental odds – with a bit of luck thrown into the mix.

Participating in the electoral contests legitimizes the process and had the ruling party won an outright a majority in this year’s elections, the opposition then would have appeared as sore losers presuming they had made their calls for inclusiveness and constitutional reform.

That being said, the actual outcome of the November 28 elections produced a marvellous result. We now have a political arrangement where power is dispersed among various parties and where the opposition can provide an effective counterbalance to the executive branch, as a result of their combined majority status in the legislature. The stage then is set for the imminent order of business, which is to review and revise the nation’s most calamitous constitutional rules.

However, despite this, many are justifiably sceptical and cynical that this new political dispensation will work. This hesitation arises from a history of uncompromising hypocrisy that characterizes our political leadership. There are too few leaders who are willing and courageous enough to sacrifice short-term political gain in order to achieve imperative long-term national gain.

What we have seen over the years is that most well-founded initiatives fall victim to petty partisanship and the words ‘compromise’ and ‘accommodation’ have little or no place in our political vocabulary. Our leaders rush to define their counterparts as enemies rather than as cohorts working towards common advancement. Overcoming this temptation should be the main objective our country faces as we await the new parliament’s convocation.

In the meantime, I will not let cynicism overwhelm me. Instead, I will become a dreamer and optimist, hoping this time our political leaders will rise to the occasion and unite to create a nation where all citizens live in peace and have the justified access, opportunity, and promise for achieving their own possibilities.

Yours faithfully,
Clinton Urling

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