The problem of presidential powers is not in the constitution, but in an incumbent’s disregard for the constitution

Dear Editor,

The thoughts expressed in Tarron Khemraj’s letter ‘Civil society has a right to offer opinions on whom the PNCR elects as leader’ (SN, July 26) confirms our dissimilar perspectives. It may be acceptable for some to ignore or downplay the presence of multi-ethnicity in political parties. However, the presence of a dominant racial group in any political party does not mean it is not multiracial.

The dominance of one race lends superficial credibility to the argument that a party is race based. But this does not mean that parties are not multi-ethnic when there is obvious evidence to support the fact that they are. A base does not change unless it is destroyed, but if that happens, then that organisation would no longer exist. An organisation can become more diversified, and the political parties, with the exception of ROAR, have pursued such efforts, though their level of intensity and sincerity can come under scrutiny.

In Guyana the race-based political reality is with us and will remain so for some time to come. My concern is how do we work with it? Given the racial reality, do we wait to create the notional perfect situation (race neutral politics) as groups suffer, or do we work to make the imperfect perfect, ie, moving from racial inequality to racial equality? The latter will acknowledge that the presence of a single race foundation gives no party the prerogative or authority to discriminate against those who are not from the same group or choose not to identify with said group.

From this acknowledgement it should follow that systems ought to be put in place to achieve aspirations for equality. Political parties are national in character and in a multi-ethnic society when they vie for national office they have a corresponding responsibility to ensure that even as they seek to advance the programmes that got them elected, these cannot be to the exclusion of others from the national pie.

Neither should national office be secured when there is a disregard for the laws that guarantee equality for all. And to this end a key component is that political leaders should play a prominent role in educating their base to respect the differences in others.

Those who differ from this outlook will ascribe stagnation to my appeal for leadership pro-activism on race relations. Here again I differ with Mr Khemraj who thinks that this would “leave no room for democratic turnover as there is in Trinidad and Tobago with a similar demographic composition to that of Guyana.” This ignores the T&T political reality, which has a first-past-the-post system as against our proportional representation, a greater clamour for political integrity from office holders, a militant opposition and a head of government who pays heed to public criticism.

Mr Khemraj’s view that, “The current pernicious constitution does not allow post-election coalitions and the President has all the legal powers not to assent to the Bills of the opposition,” has not been guided by a reading of the constitution. Tony Vieira’s incisive writings on post-election coalitions in KN and SN, March 1, 4 and KN, Aug 1 offer guidance in this regard. Mr Vieira’s argument is grounded in constitutional evidence, logical assessment and legal advice and makes insightful reading. The problem with presidential “powers” is not the constitution per se; the problem is a presidential incumbent’s disregard for the people, constitution and laws.

Guyana’s political landscape is plagued with lawless men and women, both in the opposition and government. This is manifested in the disregard for the laws and court rulings if they do not fit into the sought after agenda.

No constitution however perfect will change such behaviour. Behavioural change lies with the people being empowered to recognise who really is in charge of government and acting in accordance with this. It is called people’s power, and is practised in T&T and elsewhere, but is still to find a comfortable home in Guyana.

And with regard to David Granger’s performance, such will continue to be evaluated as needs be, guided by the requirements and responsibilities vested in the offices he holds.

Yours faithfully,

Minette Bacchus

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