Constitutional reform appears to have been put in cold storage

Dear Editor,

The Carter Center has made some interesting suggestions regarding constitutional reform. Among the several recommendations are direct election for the president who may or may not belong to a political party. Voters, if my understanding of the recommendation is correct, can vote for all of the candidates in some preferred or ordinal manner which will then be aggregated and the candidate with the highest number of votes will be declared winner.

The thinking behind this recommendation is that it will encourage voters to vote across party and by extension ethnic lines.

This is indeed an interesting, even though a not entirely novel idea. The British government came up during the 1960s with several proposals with a view to addressing the racial problematic which was described by then Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys as “the curse of Guyana.” After all efforts failed at arriving at a political solution, Sandys imposed a system of proportional representation. The PPP was perceived to enjoy an electoral advantage under the then first past the post or constituency model. The party, for instance in the 1961 elections, managed to get roughly 57% of the seats in the Legislative Assembly with under 50% of the votes cast in its favour. In other words, its parliamentary strength was significantly greater than its popular strength. Given the Cold War politics of the period, an obvious way to get rid of Dr Jagan and his PPP was to change the system of electoral representation from the constituency model to one of proportional representation (PR).

One outcome of that constitutional imposition was that it created the basis for the formation of a post-election coalition government which hitherto was not possible.

A clear advantage of the constituency model is that it lends itself to more stable and accountable governance, as voters vote directly for candidates representing defined geographical boundaries as opposed to the current party list system. This is perhaps something that the Constitutional Reform Committee may want to give consideration to in its quest for greater accountability at the level of constituency politics.

The Carter Center has done well to put forward some ideas on the way forward in terms of a new governance paradigm. The time is long overdue for the administration to make public the recommendations of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform that was set up over a year ago regarding a proposed framework within which the broader consultations could take place.

The Guyanese public is awaiting a response from the Granger administration on this fundamental issue of constitutional reform which incidentally was one of its major manifesto promises. For some reason known only to itself, the issue of constitutional reform appears to have been put in cold storage.

Yours faithfully,

Hydar Ally

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