Ending ethnic political conflict

I have repeatedly argued that the attempts to establish ethnic dominance of various sorts by different means are unnecessary and cannot solve the ethnic security problem that exists in Guyana and I have often been asked to outline what form of government best suits our condition. Some of this has already been outlined in Future Notes 15/6/ to 20/7/2011; 16/11/2011; 25/1/2012; 22/2/2012; 4/4/2012 and 7/8/2012, but my views have evolved somewhat, so I will try my hand again. However, the conceptual justifications contained in the above articles still, for the most part, form the foundation of the suggestions I now present.

I wish everyone a prosperous New Year, and since our incapacity to properly grapple with issues of governance has for decades left us in our relatively poor condition, as the new year beckons  I invite you to begin pondering and where necessary acting upon such efforts as seek to establish a more progressive form of governance. I believe that while many of our arguments for or against one side or the other usually express concerns about how we are governed, the fulcrum of our political disputes is as much about who governs. So I will as briefly as possible begin this effort by presenting the basic building blocks of what I consider a more appropriate political executive. I have adopted a barebones approach, i.e., putting forward the basic structure with only basic explanations. Later, as I consider other levels of governance, e.g., the legislature and its relation to the executive, etc., and deal with some of the criticisms that are sure to follow this presentation, more relevant and detailed arguments will emerge.

History and culture can be quite tyrannical, placing upon us numerous uncalled for limitations. So we should proceed in the belief that in constitution-making, much more is possible than we think. What is important is for us to adopt existing ideas and practices and where necessary devise new approaches that are in sync with our needs and will enable us to live in security, cooperation and prosperity. I am positing that our central problem is ethnic insecurity, which results in the leadership of our major ethnic groups being able to convince us, and possibly themselves, that ethnic dominance by way of numerical superiority or electoral manipulation is the answer. I reject these positions and am here attempting to devise a system that will substantially reduce ethnic political conflict.

As a conceptual backdrop, Cheddi Jagan’s position that neither he nor his supporters wanted to dominate others but that neither did they want to be dominated is considered appropriate and applicable to all ethnicities and their leadership. However, our political context requires an important elaboration. Those of African ethnicity consider their not having an opportunity to lead (become president and form the government) based upon the numerical superiority of ethnic voting, is an important aspect of political domination. Finally, although it suggests methods to end deadlocks which of course can be improved, the system proposed here and throughout this discourse place a premium upon and is constructed to force decision making by consensus.

The proposal

1.There shall be a presidency, which shall be the Cabinet, consisting of 6 persons, the chairperson of which shall be the president, and the chairpersonship shall be rotated annually with no one party holding it for two consecutive years.

2.The resident shall be both head of state and government and perform the usual functions of those positions, but like all other members of the presidency shall also have day to day responsibility for a ministry and arrangements will be institutionalised for the president to be given additional support if necessary. All other members of the presidency shall be designated ‘vice-presidents’ and if requested by him/her will be expected to help with his/her titular activities.

3.Once a threshold of 15% is achieved, the parties winning the first, second and third highest votes in a general election and thus similar proportional representation in the National Assembly will respectively be allocated 3, 2 and 1 places in the presidency. In the event of there being no third party reaching the threshold, the first and second parties shall each have 3 places in the presidency.

4.In any deadlock, the chairperson will have a casting vote which s/he must use to maintain the status quo and this can only be broken by a resort to the National Assembly and the proposing party receiving 10% more support than it has in the Assembly but never less than 50% of the total Assembly. However, where 3 or 2 members of the presidency from the same party believe a matter to be of ‘special importance’ (this is intended to deal essentially with ethnic concerns; a matter of ‘special importance’ will be clearly defined and justiciable) and where by way of a motion by secret ballot in the National Assembly that motion receives 5% more votes than the proposing party’s representation therein the motion will be considered carried and binding upon the presidency.

5.There shall be no more than 12 ministries. So, in addition to the 6 members of the presidency, there shall be 6 ministers, also distributed 3, 2, 1, but in the event of there being no third party, like the presidency the ministries shall be equally divided and ministers shall rotate biannually. Unless otherwise unanimously agreed by the presidency, ministers from the same party shall not consecutively control the same ministries.

6.The two larger parties must choose for both the presidency and ministers at least one woman and one person under 35 years of age. The smallest party will also be expected to distribute its representation in both categories to reflect youth and gender balance.

To allow for the growth of ethnic cooperation in the political process, this presentation implicitly but rarely directly addresses the issue of race/ethnicity. As a result, it does not speak directly to the need for Amerindian involvement in the presidency and ministers.  However, since all parties will want to broaden their political base, they will have to take account of the 10.5% and growing indigenous vote. The hope is that from the inception first peoples are properly represented in both categories.

Important comments

Based on the results of the 2006, 2011 and 2015 elections, the table above gives a bird’s-eye view of what government would have looked like under the proposed system and I believe that it:

Provides a shared governance arrangement in which neither of the larger ethnic groups has a substantial advantage over the other, i.e. can dominate the other in terms of executive governmental power, and all parties will control the presidency at some point.

Makes political competition less fierce as there will not be much more to gain or lose.

Significantly improves the policy space of minority members of our ethnic parties and thus facilitates interethnic cooperation. All our political parties have people of different ethnicities and if an issue is not a contrived political standoff but really is as important to an ethnic group as its proposers claim, they should be able to gain 5% of support from among the other parties.

Generally allows for an opposition by providing a threshold of 15% for participation in the government.

Provides a government that is reflective of an adequate proportion (over 85%) of the electorate.

Institutionalizes small government instead of the 27 ministers we now have, and hopefully a significantly reduced bureaucracy will also be facilitated since no party will be able to pack the public service with its own supporters.

Will preclude stalemates such as that which occurred after the 2011 general elections when the PPP/C took the presidency and APNU and the AFC the legislature.


Nothing in the above is carved in stone and I am certain that many missteps will be identified. However, I hope that the general frame of governance presented here indicates that it is possible to establish a political system that can protect the interest of all of us. Of course, there are many other critical issues, and next week, after commenting upon some of the criticisms that will inevitably follow this presentation, I will, inter alia, consider the legislature and its relationship to the executive.


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