I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be at the Pegasus Hotel two weeks ago where the University of Guyana had a panel discussion on the Constitution of our country. I believed that each panellist did a good job in their presentation. The moderator was excellent and was mindful of those of us who asked questions not to have a mini-presentation. I asked one question as to whether constitutional reform was for the benefit of the leadership of the PPP and the PNC, or the people of Guyana.
Our current constitution was preceded by a referendum on July 10th, 1978. I remember this date as if it was yesterday. If you were to vote ‘yes’ for the new constitution, the symbol was a house, and for a ‘no’ vote, the symbol was a mouse. On the day of the referendum, there was literally no one in the streets. You could have slept in the middle of the road and nothing would have disturbed you. All of the observers of that referendum reported that a very small percentage of voters went to the poll. I believe that the members of the army, police, national service and other military organizations made up the voting population of the day. Even the supporters of the PNC stayed away. When the results were announced, 419,936 ‘aliens’ voted ‘yes’ and 8,956 persons noted ‘no’.
Our new constitution came into being from a massive irregularity. The ‘official’ constitution came into effect on October 6th, 1980. I remember the leadership of the PPP, including Dr Jagan and Moses Nagamootoo shouting from the rooftop that this Burnham constitution must be opposed, and we must fight to replace this draconian constitution. I said a simple prayer that God will give the PPP the opportunity to be in power so they can replace it. My prayer was answered 12 years later in October 1992. I told myself that Dr Jagan would immediately set the stage to rewrite our constitution. I waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing of substance happened, and as dem boys she, we get ‘larwa’. Fast forward to 2015, I believed that the APNU+AFC coalition would have constitutional reform as a major priority. Again, we are getting more ‘larwa’.
Our recent history of attempts at constitutional reform seem to suggest that any reform that is to be made must first be in the interest of, and for the benefit of the leadership of the PPP and the PNC, hence my question to the panellist. The Guyanese people continue to be pawns in the PPP and PNC games. Nothing of substance will emerge with these two albatrosses in the equation. Do the Guyanese people understand why the PPP and PNC refused to change the articles that give the presidency to the party with the most votes and the list system still remains as solid as a rock? It is in the interest of the leadership of the PPP and the PNC, and that is what matters to them.
One of my recommendations for consideration in any new constitution is as follows: Any political party that seeks to contest any elections in Guyana, shall have in the make-up of its leadership and members, a direct proportion of the ethnic composition of the population. This must be independently confirmed by an independent elections commission before the party is allowed to contest any election.