While the President’s proclamation on November 10, may have introduced the word ‘prorogation’ to many Guyanese, the suspension of parliamentary democracy did not happen overnight. In fact, the PPP has been on an anti-parliamentary trajectory for years. In spite of many opportunities to abandon its march to dictatorship, the regime has refused to do so. Given those facts, Guyanese may wish to consider doing more than sitting back and waiting for elections; citizens may need to take firm action to arrest Guyana’s slide into totalitarianism.
As early as 2004, during Bharrat Jagdeo’s reign, former US president Jimmy Carter had identified the problem. He said, “The Guyanese government remains divided with a winner takes all concept that continues to polarise many aspects of the nation’s life.” We know that despite the efforts of the pro-democracy parties, the PPP regime has stubbornly refused to recognise the authority of people’s legitimate representatives.
The regime’s authoritarian intentions were also recognised by the Commonwealth’s senior Parliamentary Staff Advisor, Sir Michael Davies. After conducting a detailed study of Guyana’s system of government, he observed that, “meetings of the Assembly are entirely at the whim of the Executive.” His report entitled, Needs Assessment of the Guyana National Assembly, was a stinging indictment of the PPP’s autocratic behaviour. The report noted that the Assembly’s budget and staffing were entirely controlled by the PPP. It was observed that the work of parliamentary committees, “is subject to frustration by the Executive.” Sir Michael’s report criticised the convention of allowing the executive to schedule meetings. The practice of submitting Order Papers to the Office of the President was also denounced. He said that the President, “can and does strike out motions which the Office does not like.” Numerous other informed authorities have also come to similar conclusions including the UNDP. Its report – ‘Assessment of Committees System of Guyana’s National Assembly’ – states that it was, “high-time that Guyana’s political culture reflects the ideal of power-sharing.” Clearly, the PPP regime knew of its shortcomings, but ignored every opportunity to change course.
In 2011, when Guyanese gave an electoral majority to the combined opposition parties, the PPP could have heeded the wake-up call and adopted an inclusionary approach to governance. Instead, we know that the ruling clique dug in their heels. On June 13, 2013, President Ramotar further hardened the regime’s dictatorial stance by declaring that he would not support any bill piloted by the opposition. On August 2, 2013, at the PPP’s Congress in Port Mourant, the President made his views clear. Incredibly, he said that the National Assembly was a, “wound on the body politic of our nation…that is festering and reopening…” Evidently, his party was just waiting for a chance to get rid of the “wound,” and did so through prorogation.
The President said that his decision to prorogue was intended to facilitate dialogue. Editor, could he have given a more absurd reason? Clearly, he intended to hold on to power against the will of the Guyanese majority, by precluding debate on the opposition’s no-confidence motion. The President’s action also served to frustrate scrutiny of the PPP’s financial improprieties, and forestall the sanctioning of the Attorney General following the revelation of the contents of a damning recording. Frighteningly, Professor Clive Thomas, in a recent presentation at the National Library, characterised the tape as, “an excursion into state terrorism.”
Guyanese must take note of the evidence: the current PPP has harboured the intention of establishing a dictatorship in Guyana for a long time. Jagan’s PPP may have been a workers’ party, but the Jagdeo/Ramotar PPP is a different beast altogether. Given the evidence, Guyanese should not expect the dictators to simply announce a date for elections; going to the polls would be the ultimate risk for them. One may also consider that the ruling clique would do anything to prevent an audit of the books and an evaluation of their performance; too much may come to light. Pro-democracy leaders may therefore be well advised to put aside lingering differences. They may wish to consider that their first battle may not be a partisan effort to win elections. Rather, they may need to unite to lead Guyanese in a fight for an election itself. Guyanese may have been complacent; we may have taken too much for granted, and ignored the advance of the PPP’s creeping dictatorship. Let us not also take for granted the inevitability of elections. We cannot reasonably expect the clique to change course in the absence of pressure. Supporters of pro-democracy parties must therefore forge alliances across party lines and impress upon leaders the need to confront the PPP as a united force. Prorogation may have been a wake-up call, we may ignore it at our own peril.