Columnist Ralph Ramkarran has decried President David Granger’s characterising on Thursday of the governing coalition as a `winner-does-not take-it-all’ model.
Granger made the statement when he addressed Parliament in a session marred by a cacophony from the opposition benches which drowned out most of the President’s address.
In Guyana’s political lexicon `winner-does-not-take-it-all’ means that the winning party does not control all of the major bases of power but that these are shared with the party coming second in what has historically been a duopoly here since independence.
In his column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran referred to the President’s address to Parliament and said it makes constitutional reform seem remote.
He noted: “With ‘non-cooperation’ by the Opposition, constitutional reform in terms of the APNU+AFC manifesto (separate presidential elections, the candidate obtaining the second highest votes becoming the prime minister and every political party obtaining more than 15 percent of the votes being qualified to have representation in the government) has become doubtful. The Opposition is awaiting an invitation from the President. The governmental process appears to be stalled. And with President Granger’s latest statement to the National Assembly on Thursday last, the prospect now looks remote. President Granger said: `A multi-party coalition assumed office and ushered in an opportunity for consensus-based politics. This form of government wrested the nation from the vice of divisive and destructive winner-takes-all politics and laid the basis for a system of inclusionary democracy – the form of governance prescribed by the Constitution, at Article 13. That is the form that seeks cooperation for the ‘common good’ rather than one that fosters confrontation and chaos.’”
Ramkarran stated that `Winner-does-not-take-all-politics’ was a policy first accepted by the PPP as a reaction to the PNC’s “unlawful acquisition and retention of political power from 1968 onwards”.
The former Speaker said that the objective was for the two main political parties to share political power and bring an end to ethnic domination through political power. He said that the PNC’s ‘shared governance’ proposals, which came later, had the same objective. These two policies, he said are reflected in the APNU+AFC manifesto promises on constitutional reform, as outlined above.
“But for President Granger to now baptise the APNU+AFC coalition as an expression of `winner-does-not-take-all-politics,’ thereby distorting the meaning of `winner-does-not-take-all,’ is as wrong as the PPP’s distortion of the PPP/Civic in the same way. `Winner-does-not-take-all’ pre-supposes a coalition between the main political parties. If it doesn’t bring this about, it is not `winner-does-not-take-all.’ It is merely a coalition of convenience, whether PPP/Civic or APNU+AFC”, Ramkarran who spearheaded the constitutional reform process in 2000, said.
Ramkarran, a senior counsel, said that with both APNU+AFC and the PPP/C believing that they will win the 2020 elections, the “oil bonanza for their elites and ethnic domination rather than constitutional reform would now appear to be far more attractive propositions to each”. Ramkarran cautioned that there is the danger that unless public pressure continues to be brought on APNU+AFC to uphold its manifesto promise, that the issue of national unity will be postponed to the third generation of Guyanese after 1950.
In noting the rise in political tensions in recent weeks, Ramkarran said this stemmed from the President’s appointment of retired justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.
“Mr. James Patterson may not have been the President’s first choice. The appearance of Major General (ret’d) Joe Singh’s name among the final six (names submitted by the Opposition Leader) gave some hope that the matter would be resolved without resort to the proviso (on appointment of a Chairman). Those who know the retired Major-General suggest that he would not have allowed his name to go forward if there was any possibility that it would be rejected as not fit and proper. His sudden resignation from all government posts suggest that an undertaking, which may have been given to him, had been violated”, Ramkarran stated.
With Guyana’s charged political and electoral history, Ramkarran posited that the Opposition’s response of non-cooperation to the President’s unilateral appointment, is not surprising.
He said that the most recent example of non-cooperation – unparliamentary behaviour during the President’s address – “has its roots in an unrepresentative National Assembly between 1968 and 1985 together with the nature of the PNC’s non-cooperative conduct extended towards the National Assembly between 1992 and 2015. Whatever may be said about the PPP’s conduct, it is strongly supported by its supporters, just as the PNC’s conduct was justified by its supporters. The only people offended by these outbursts are political pundits and supporters of the other side. Because the (mis)conduct enhances the party’s fighting spirit among its supporters, just as it did when the PNC was in Opposition, it will continue with the PPP”.
Ramkarran added that two of the biggest issues facing Guyana in the immediate period, which could be negatively affected by ‘non-cooperation,’ are the management of the country’s oil resources and constitutional reform. In relation to oil, he noted that the Petroleum Commission Bill has been published and is likely to be debated in the National Assembly in the near future.
“This Bill is of tremendous importance and can be much improved in debate and discussion. A bill to create and manage a sovereign wealth fund is under preparation. This also will require extensive examination, discussion and debate. Since oil will become Guyana’s largest income earner for the foreseeable future and will shape the future of Guyana and all Guyanese, it is vitally necessary that the Opposition is fully engaged in fashioning oil legislation which is intended to protect the people of Guyana. The PPP should not extend ‘non-cooperation’ to these Bills”, Ramkarran asserted.