Guyana should revert to the 1966 Independence Constitution

Dear Editor,

I read that the Carter Center and the University of Guyana will host a symposium on constitutional reform on Friday, March 31. It is my opinion that proportional representation (PR) and the list system have harmed race relations and the democratic process in Guyana by enabling racial mobilization and party dictatorship. The consequences have been ethnic division, a farce of a parliament, and a mockery of coalition politics.

Under our electoral system voters do not directly elect their members of parliament (MP). Rather we vote for a list of candidates that are fielded by the political parties and the political parties through the List of Representatives select the MPs. In reality the political bosses select the MPs. The MPs are not accountable to local constituencies but rather to the party. In Parliament the MP is not allowed to vote according to conscience but must toe the party line or risk being fired by the party. This most certainly is not parliamentary democracy but party dictatorship.

Coupled with party dictatorship is racial mobilization. If we look at our political history we will see that since PR was introduced in December 1964 it made it much easier for the main parties to engage in electoral mobilization along racial lines, so much so that today in 2017 we have entrenched racial blocs supporting both parties. There is no need for the parties to have good programmes and appeal to reason. It is much easier to appeal to race by subtle and sometimes crude language. There is no need for a candidate to work house to house in seeking the votes of all, irrespective of ethnicity as was the case when we had first past the post (FPTP) prior to 1964.

Post-1964 found that both major parties had embraced Socialist ideology which naturally inculcated dictatorship instincts in their leadership. Such dictatorial instincts spilled over to the Parliament where they literally opposed each other. No matter what the PNC proposed the PPP opposed and vice versa. There was never compromise. It was always about the majority party getting its way. The only time the PPP and PNC found common ground was to pass the Recall Bill which gave them legal ownership of the parliamentary seats and the power to fire dissenting MPs! It also effectively turned Parliament into a farce. All of this because of the list system.

The list system has essentially made a mockery of post-independence coalition politics, as coalitions must be formed before elections and they must also put up a common list with the List Represen-tative selecting the MPs. It means that no one party owns a seat or seats. A party cannot leave the coalition with its seats. If a party walks away the seats remain with the coalition. In such an arrangement the smaller parties are rendered impotent, unless they control the List Representa-tive, which would be most unlikely. So smaller parties must accept the dictates of the larger ones. In Guyana a coalition government simply cannot be brought down by a junior partner. This is totally different from real parliamentary democracies that adhere to the Westminster constitutions under which they all got at Independence.

All the functioning parliamentary democracies such as India, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago have one thing in common: They all kept the Westminster type constitutions that they got from the British. So my first recommendation is for Guyana to revert to the 1966 Independence Constitution, but I know the main parties would not do so.

My other recommendations are as follows: replace PR with FPTP thereby ending the list system; repeal the Recall Bill thereby enabling MPs to vote according to conscience; scrap the rule that disallows post-election coalitions thereby permitting post-election coalitions with every party having their own seats.

 

Yours faithfully,

Malcolm Harripaul

 

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