By Ralph Ramkarran
The late Forbes Burnham could never have imagined that in 1980 when he enforced a constitutional arrangement which, as his opponents assert, would indefinitely extend his political longevity and that of the PNC, that it was the PPP which was going to be the beneficiary.
The executive president, created by the new constitution, was to be and is elected by a unique method. He/she is not elected in separate elections like most other countries. Neither is he/she elected by a majority with a run off if the majority is not achieved on the first ballot. The presidential candidate is designated on the list of candidates and the person so designated on the list that wins at least a plurality becomes the president.
No one knows what Burnham’s actual intentions or expectations were, apart from the allegations of his critics. And no one who might have known what they were has ever attempted to illuminate them. Generally there is silence about Burnham from his supporters and former colleagues except for political airbrushing and praise for his ‘genius.’ But if his intention was to preserve political power for himself and his party, it was the PPP that got the last laugh.
As is known, the results of the 2011 elections did not give any list an overall majority. The PPP/C’s list obtained the largest number of votes but fell short of the majority that it obtained at all elections since 1992. Without any debate in its most important bodies, the PPP proceeded to appoint an executive consisting solely of PPP members. Whether this was a similar outcome Burnham intended for his Party if it had obtained such an electoral result is not known. Burnham did not live to experience such a situation and the PNC under Hoyte suffered electoral defeat in 1992.
No one could doubt that if Cheddi Jagan were in the same situation today, he would have been attuned to the possibility of power slipping out of his hands in an unstable political climate and would have understood the necessity to maintain political power by way of a high degree of political consensus which would ensure progress, development and job creation. He would have understood that even if new elections brought about the same results, he would not be able to continue in power alone.
I am not the only person around who had long service in the leadership of the PPP while Cheddi Jagan was around. No one who had this opportunity can credibly deny that had he been alive today facing the same political situation, the drive and energy that he devoted to a political solution for decades would have finally been realized in 2011, if not before. No one can deny that he saw the unity of the Guyanese working people as a prerequisite for the full flowering of our economic and cultural potential and would have seized the opportunity to effect such unity. While I believe that Burnham would have been realistic enough not to jeopardize his hold on political office by trying to go it alone, it is for those who knew him better to speak.
Instead of seeking the kind of unity that would have ensured political stability and development after the 2011 elections, the PPP/C opted for a minority government. There is nothing wrong in principle with such a decision, once the opposition permits such a situation on the basis of some form of agreement about major policy directions. This did not happen and the opposition is allowing the government to hold office on sufferance, not on the basis of agreed policies. The result is that there is political gridlock and a stalemate on legislation and development projects, with potential investors being warned. This situation, which appears as if it will continue until the next elections are due in 2016 is unfair to the Guyanese people and is not what they voted for. The only way to break this stalemate is by constitutional reform and new elections.
During last week there were two news items of political interest. One is that, contrary to popular belief and an undertaking from the President, no budget discussions are taking place. The other is that the Opposition is unlikely to support the anti-money laundering legislation in its present form and unless the Public Procurement Commission is established. These developments are surely connected. For compromises to be achieved, on anything, discussions must take place. In their absence Guyana can expect no developments whatsoever, in or out of parliament, except in those areas of the economy which do not depend on agreement between these forces. We are seeing it in rice, mining and construction.
The failure of the Amaila Hydroelectric Project, the Opposition’s warning to potential investors in the Marriott, the possibility of the Airport Expansion Project and the Specialty Hospital being derailed and now the anti money laundering legislation being held up which will negatively impact on the Government, Opposition and the entire country, indicate that our political impasse is growing to intolerable proportions. The PPP has had the last laugh out of the Burnham Constitution but no one is celebrating.