We need to understand what inspired Burnham and the PNC’s thinking about the need for the new 1980 Constitution. Indians were in the majority, and given the culture of ethnic voting for ethnic parties, the Indo-ethnic party would always win. Hence the need to put in place a new constitution to give the Afro-ethnic party every conceivable advantage to hold on to power for as long as possible. So, the Westminster model had to be rejected and replaced by the so-called Burnham constitution, which gave them the following advantages:
(a) Winning the plurality of votes in elections, but losing the majority of seats in the parliament would still give PNC the presidency. (This was at once an enormously silly and impractical idea – in 2011 Mr Ramotar became the president on the basis of a plurality, did not command control of the parliament but still tried to run the government. He failed; it just couldn’t work).
(b) The parliament under the Westminster model held 53-seats, but the Burnham constitution tinkered endlessly until it threw in 10 more seats from local government hoping most of those seats would go to the PNC. This was another added advantage to help the PNC hold on to power.
(c) Still more blatant tinkering. Coali-tions of parties post-elections are a tested, universal principle, but Mr Burnham would have none of it. Coalitions of parties must be formed pre-elections, as a consequence of which he still hoped to pullout another advantage. (Well it worked in the 2015 elections). Demo-cracy works best when there are frequent passes of the baton-of-power, and when there is a sizeable pool of swing voters. The ideas in the Burnham constitution did not help to advance these principles (PNC, 28-years, PPP, 23-years). In fact, they worked to solidify and perpetuate ethnic bloc voting, and did not help to develop a constituency of swing voters.
The Westminster model constitution embodies tested, universally-accepted principles. It is time to go back to the Westminster model and restore the office of prime minister, or have a president with limited powers and subject to a rule of law. If he breaks the law, the Constitution should provide for impeachment. We need a constitution to strengthen the independence of state institutions – the judiciary, Elections Commission, etc. Mr Burnham and the PNC-ites may have felt justified in rigging elections and promulgating the 1980 Constitution to give themselves built-in advantages to stay in power permanently. This condition no longer exists in Guyana today; Indians are no longer in the majority.
The Afro-PNC cannot ever win an election based solely on African votes; neither can the Indo-PPP on the basis of Indian votes. This new reality should see the emergence of a new kind of politics in Guyana. Of course, this assumes the emergence of a new enlightened political class.
Both parties must work tirelessly to destroy the ethnic perceptions of their parties; do everything possible to re-image and re-invent their parties, make them genuinely multi-racial and begin winning cross-racial votes. So, we need two things here. We need to go back to something resembling the Westminster model constitution, and more importantly, we need to outlaw the existence of perceived ethnic parties. Put an end to the practice of ethnic politics, period.