A sufficient level of political legitimacy may only be acquired by way of partial political arrangements

Dear Editor,

I tend to go to the writer’s name before reading any letter contribution and more times than not the name E. B. John inspires me to delve further.  Yet his letter ‘Carter Center has long recommended discontinuance of current GECOM model,’ SN: 03/07/2018) baffles me.

In ‘Morality injuring the body politic’ (SN: 026/06/2018), I stated that ‘The Carter formula (for appointing the members to the Guyana Elections Commission) is simply the localized application of an institution that has been in existence for centuries.  In this highly ethnically divisive society, what it seeks to accomplish goes beyond its being independent: the proposers were trying to establish legitimacy by balancing the interests of the contending parties in a fashion that would provide an institution and outcomes acceptable to all.’ Having brought to our notice the recommendation of  the Carter Center’s 2006 elections observer mission that ‘GECOM should be independent from the government and be accountable to and receive funding from the National Assembly. The independence of GECOM from the government’s administration will bolster the Commission’s credibility and independence’, Mr. John decided that there was something here to break lances about, hence my discombobulation. 

Surely, what formed the basis for the 1992 formula can and in this case should be differentiated from what formed the basis of a mere recommendation in 2006, and could be and perhaps should be analysed separately. It may well be that Mr. John wanted to bring  the 2006 recommendation to our notice and even believed that I should have mentioned it, but that could hardly be sufficient for one to part company!

I knew of the 2006 recommendation but for two reasons thought it largely irrelevant. Firstly, historically, this kind of recommendation has been the stock in trade of those concerned with political elections. Thus, the Carter Center Final Report on the 2017 Kenya General and Presidential Elections stated, ‘An independent and impartial election management body that functions transparently and professionally is internationally recognized as an effective means of ensuring that citizens are able to participate in the electoral process and that international human rights obligations pertinent to the electoral process are upheld.’ On this basis, the existing formula crafted for the 1992 elections was a compromise and when the 2006 report stated that ‘It is time for corrective action – certainly after TEN YEARS’ it was merely bemoaning our persistent deviation from this ideal.

Secondly, the disappointment of those who wrote the 2006 report was rooted in an uncontextualized idealism, for the conditions that led to the present compromise formula still existed and now (2018) have got worse. So much so, that a positive response to Mr. John’s question in the final paragraph of this letter would provide us with both the reason for the continued existence of the present formula and its overcoming in, perhaps – but only perhaps – a more progressive construct.

In his final paragraph, Mr.  John asks, ‘Is it then that we are all so embedded in the psyche of division, divisiveness, partisanship, that in 2018 it is too late for the recommended change to be addressed?’ Of course, things are not as simple as that, so I now point him to the various bi-communal theorists and practitioners and as a teaser to John Stuart Mill’s 1861 comment, ‘Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.’ These are essential readings for anyone wanting to make serious statements about politics in Guyana. From this literature you may come to understand not only the ideal but what is possible in our kind of political situation. When you consider our context, in which the president was unable to find one acceptable person to be the chair of GECOM from 18 persons presented to him and then felt it necessary to proceed to make a unilateral choice that undermines even the compromise formula we now have, you may then come to appreciate that for some time to come, so far as these kinds of political constructs are concerned, a sufficient level of political legitimacy may only be acquired by way of partial political arrangements such as at present exist.

Yours faithfully,

Henry Jeffrey

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