Jagan and the PPP broke their promise to revoke the Burnham constitution

Dear Editor,

Mr Anil Nandlall has offered compelling evidence to show how Burnham subverted the law and the independence constitution to drive his ambition of having absolute power in Guyana (riposte titled `While the Westminster Constitution remained in force for 16 years Burnham dismantled some pillars on which it was constructed’ (SN Feb 23).

Nandlall solidly and irrefutably debunks Prof Henry Jeffrey’s contention with facts and not theoretical constructs as Jeffrey posited.  But Nandlall fails to mention that his party, PPP, supported or at a minimum did not stridently oppose some of the authoritarian and illegal actions of Burnham because these were in Dr. Jagan’s view “anti imperialist and progressive”. Never mind the illegality of the acts as long as they were anti-British, that was fine for Jagan and socialist colleagues. Jagan did not pay heed to the consequences of Burnhamism and its impact on the supporters of the PPP or the nation. Socialism and anti- imperialism was a nobler cause. Supporters were sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and they are suffering today and would continue to suffer for decades to come because of political mistakes of their leadership.

Nandlall correctly noted that the 1978 referendum to replace the Westminster constitution was rigged therefore null and void. The PPP launched a campaign against the referendum in in July 1978 in which only 12% voted, and thereafter, the party and others waged a struggle against the constitution that was promulgated without the approval of the population. I and several Guyanese in the diaspora joined in that struggle. It was agreed by the PPP, other opposition parties, and international Guyanese forces that whenever there would be a restoration of democracy, the Burnham constitution would be revoked. Jagan made a commitment in 1992 before the first democratic election was held that should he win the Presidency, his first act would be to replace the constitution. Jagan and the PPP broke their promise. Twenty five years later, a handful of us in the diaspora are still engaged in that struggle to replace the constitution.

Nandlall and his colleagues, including Bharrat Jagdeo and Frank Anthony, are on record as supporting the Burnham constitution. They asked what is wrong with it. To begin with, it is illegal and as a practicing constitutionalist, Nandlall should know that is all that matters.

Nandlall, Jagdeo, Anthony, etc were very young, in short pants, when a few of us were in the trenches opposing the referendum and the constitution during the late 1970s. We, including some in the PPP, were physically abused at rallies and protests. Those who enjoyed exercising the powers of the Burnham constitution since the 1992 restoration of democratic rule have not related to our struggle against a fraudulent document. The opposition fails to understand that the very powers in the constitution that they look forward to invoke are currently being used against them. Also, there is no guarantee they would return to government. It is my analysis that those in government would remain in office for decades to come. They should therefore oppose the constitution and call for its immediate replacement with a constitution that restricts powers of the executive and that share the government with all elected parties in proportion to the percentage of votes obtained in a free and fair election. The Westminster constitution of 1966, for all its flaws, without the Burnham amendments, is still better than an illegal Burnham constitution.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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