Elections in Guyana have in the past been accompanied by violence, corruption, stagnation, fear, threats, vindictive victors and bitter losers. In the ABC countries it is not unusual to find voters in the same household supporting different parties. They take a few hours on election day to cast their votes and return home to watch the results a few hours later the same evening, then back to routine the next morning.
It is now established that in Guyana voters generally will support the same party no matter what the other side does. It is a country where it is easier to persuade some to change their religion than convince them to support another political party. Whether fair or fraudulent, the result that allows any party to govern for decades produces a feeling of invincibility and arrogance. The question then is how to respect the views of the public and change the party in office without resorting to the expensive, divisive, unpredictable, time-consuming process of elections that makes enemies of neighbours, co-workers, family and friends?
We borrowed from others in limiting the presidency to two terms, and I seriously wonder whether we can lead the world in limiting the period for which a party governs considering our unique experience.
Suppose we allow each party to govern for a limited period of time eg, 5 years, and then have the other party take over without an election? This would give the country the necessary breathing space to stabilize, grow and flourish. Then maybe in 20 years time with more mature parties and an electorate which has not grown up in an atmosphere of hatred and violence, we can go back to frequent elections. This rotation in governing would ensure that there is the power sharing every five years. Gecom will need fewer funds and we can ask our global team of observers to concentrate their limited resources elsewhere. Some may argue that this is not democratic, but then not even the ABC countries are perfect democracies. In fact it is quite probable that even regular elections may provide similar rotating governments given the small number of swing votes necessary to defeat one party.
One concern may be that if one party knows that it is guaranteed to govern for a period of time, what would prevent it from becoming corrupt or dictatorial? The answer is, the checks and balances of the constitution, the rule of law enforced by a strong, independent judicial system, a professional public service without political interference.
Asking the indulgence of readers, reference is made to the prefatory remarks in my book Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thoughts, Words, Deeds: A judge presiding over a vicious court battle for child custody asked the child’s opinion. Her reply was “I just want this fighting to stop or I will hurt myself.” She then showed him marks on her wrist as evidence that she had already attempted to do so. The immature parents were participating in an adversarial process without recognising that they were harming the child that they both claimed to love so much. The difference of course is that while the child involved gets an opportunity to express a viewpoint, there is no one to speak for the country when political parties are engaged in an internecine conflict that can destroy the very country they want to govern. The nation needs time to heal, investors need a period of economic stability, and there is need to reach back into history exploring how ancestral societies functioned without elections, while allowing the people to express their choice of who will take the leadership role.
Can we start this discussion now and seek input from the great minds at home and the Diaspora Advisory Department? Hopefully we can find another way before the next silly season destroys our native land. Perhaps it is time we had another Referendum.