No statesmanlike discourse is heard above the din

President Ramotar has announced his intention to re-examine the Government’s future relationship with the Opposition after its refusal to support the anti-money laundering amendment bill last Thursday in the National Assembly. It is believed that the  intention of the President is to further reduce the already limited contact between the two. But the reason for the impasse is in fact the lack of communication. This being so, a greater degree of engagement is likely to produce a more positive result. However, the tone of the President suggests that short shrift would be given to any such idea.

But it has worked elsewhere. At the present time the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany are engaged in discussions to form a ‘grand coalition’ due to the recent election results. The two parties have fundamental, ideological differences in political and economic philosophies and are bitterly divided on many issues. However, no one doubts that their current discourse will eventually find common ground as it did in Angela Merkel’s first term. The Chancellor, like President Ramotar, can decide to go it alone. But she knows that Germany will suffer political instability which will harm its economy if she does and therefore prefers a government in which she would get some, though not all, of what she wanted in what may well be her last term.

The philosophical differences between the PPP and PNC/APNU are far less. The divisions today are on the marginalization and corruption, which are denied by the Government. Measures to curb these are far less difficult to negotiate than  ideological differences. In Guyana, statesmanlike discourse above the din on these issues, on the anti-money laundering legislation, or on constitutional reform to break the deadlock, has not taken place or is not taking place.

20131103ralphAt a time when relations between the Government and Opposition are at their worst, this may not be a time when these parties would be persuaded to consider constitutional reform. Hopefully, the electorate would be engaged.

During the time of constitutional reform in 1999-2000, the WPA and its allies strongly promoted the view that it was necessary for the constitution to institutionalize coalition governments in order to end the ethnically driven political instability and to encourage a feeling of mutual responsibility for the welfare of Guyana. The PPP and PNCR were not in favour of this proposition and so it was not accepted.

A minority government was facilitated by the removal by the 1980 Burnham Constitution of the requirement for the government to have the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly as determined by the president. Whatever the intention behind the removal of this power, its effect was to create instability, as at present, by allowing a minority government to exist lawfully.

Many believe that the effort at constitutional reform of 1999-2000 resulted in unfinished business. The CRC did not have the power to impose reforms proposed by the WPA. It is time to revisit the idea of reforming the constitution but without hasty conclusions which can lead to gridlock like the appointment of the Chancellor and Chief Justice to which the PPP unwisely agreed in 2000-01 in the Oversight Committee without a murmur.

In most constitutions of the full Westminster type with a ceremonial head of state and a prime minister as head of government, as in Guyana, the ceremonial head appoints the government comprising the political party or group of political parties which in his or her opinion is likely to obtain the support of the majority in parliament. This was enshrined in Article 34(3) of our Independence Constitution but expunged by the 1980 Burnham Constitution. Had this not happened we would today have had a coalition government and a stable regime. The answer to the problem of minority government and instability is to return to the full Westminster system with a ceremonial President and a prime minister as head of government. The argument that the Independence Constitution was a colonial imposition and needed to be amended was always a hoax.

Before this process commences, an emergency effort to restore Article 34(3) of the Independence Constitution should be immediately made by the National Assembly. This would then require the President to appoint a government which will have the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly.

The other and equally important proposal made to the CRC was for power sharing to be included in the constitution. No specifics were advanced. It may have meant a provision requiring the government to consist of at least the two major political parties obtaining seats in the National Assembly. Such a proposal might well result in charges of discrimination from a third party having seats or worse, gridlock if no agreement emerges.

Discussion would be necessary to resolve this dilemma. One possibility is merely to leave it alone with the presidential power in Article 34(3) restored. The expectation would be that coalition governments would have to be negotiated where there are no absolute majorities. Alternatively, the constitution can be amended to provide that the government must consist of at least two political parties and allow the political process to evolve out of the current entrenched political postures.

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