The fact a system is not included in the Constitution does not mean it cannot be as part of the reform process

Dear Editor,

Mr Lincoln Lewis is an outspoken and well-intentioned patriot who clearly wishes only good for Guyana. He has over the years offered criticism and praise to both sides of the political divide, and seems to genuinely attempt to strike a fair balance in an impossible political culture. In his recent contributions to your paper, he has essayed on a discourse of constitutional issues in Guyana and the overarching legislative structure which governs our political process. This is a large and difficult topic. It is a discussion of enormous interest for Guyana, and one which is central to the RISE movement.

In his letter to the editor published in your newspaper on 24th September, ‘Constitutional symposium panellists should understand the Constitution before speaking on it’ Mr Lewis criticized the proposition advanced by RISE that constitutional reform should be the method by which a constituency based system is implemented in Guyana. Mr Lewis did not discuss whether a constituency based system is in itself desirable in our political reality. Instead, he based his criticism on the premise that the list system which prevails is founded not in the Constitution, but in the Representation of the People Act.  Mr Lewis seems to posit that because the Constitution empowers Parliament to make laws for an electoral system, the implementation of a constituency system is not a matter of constitutional reform, but one for consideration by Parliament to be advocated by engaging the National Assembly. Unfortunately, Mr Lewis concludes that RISE’s proposition stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Constitution.

RISE welcomes the contribution from Mr Lewis, and hopes that this contribution is the first of many, so that a national conversation can be started and a consensus be identified publicly and clearly informing the political parties what the people desire for a political system.

In the spirit of that conversation, RISE wishes to express its disagreement with Mr Lewis’s contention that the issue of a constituency system rather than a list system cannot find its remedy in constitutional reform. The Representation of the People Act was passed in 1964. It was designed by the politicians of the day for the purpose of protecting their parties and perpetuating the dominance of those existing parties. The list system was not implemented to reflect the will of the people; it was implemented to assure the longevity of the two race based parties. A voter in Guyana does not know who his constituent representative is; he votes for a cup or a palm tree, so the support of the cup and the palm tree is assured for so long as the list system exists.

The Representation of the People Act has not been substantially changed for over forty years. The only real change was the elimination of overseas voting in 1991, a concession made by President Hoyte.  Without the infamous overseas vote, the PPP secured a numerical race advantage in the population. What is certain is that neither party will agree to change the existing system, although the government of the day appears to be leaning to a reintroduction of overseas voting before 2020. Engaging the National Assembly as Mr Lewis recommends will not result in a changed system reflecting the desire of the people.

RISE believes that the only means of assuring a fair constituent system is to enshrine such a system in the Constitution. Thus, neither party will be able to change that system without the co-operation of the other party (necessary for the two-thirds majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution).  The fact that it is not already provided for in the Constitution does not mean that it cannot be included as part of the reform process, as Mr Lewis seems to erroneously suggest. In fact, during the most recent constitutional reform discussions in 2000-01, all stakeholders involved supported an amendment to the Constitution to enshrine the constituency system and abolish the list system. All but two: the PNC and PPP representatives blocked the change.

Yours faithfully,

Wil Campbell

Nadia Sagar

Jainarine Singh

Marcel Gaskin

Renata Chuckasang

for RISE Guyana

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