Much discussion and debate has occurred since the elections of 2011 in relation to post-elections coalitions in Guyana. This debate advanced the false notion that our constitution prohibits such coalitions. This is absolutely untrue. There is no law or constitutional provision that prevented President Ramotar in 2011, when the PPP/C lost its absolute majority and obtained a plurality, from inviting the AFC or APNU, or both, to join his government by offering a proportionate share of ministries. President Ramotar chose not to do so, preferring to head a minority government, which was bound to fail, as it eventually did. The result of the elections of 2011, which exposed some disaffection of Indian support for the PPP, the PPP’s adamant hostility to a post-election coalition, its fear of the electorate by refusing to hold local government elections which would have induced the AFC to withdraw its no confidence motion and the woeful lack of vision of the PPP/C in the campaign and in government, created the conditions for a pre-elections coalition between the APNU and AFC.
It was necessary for the APNU+AFC to have a pre-elections coalition and contest the elections on a joint list of candidates in order to regulate their relations and because the PPP/C was expected to win at least the plurality. They needed to get at least a plurality for David Granger and not Donald Ramotar to become the President. As it turned out, APNU+AFC won a bare majority.
What is prohibited by the constitution is a post-election negotiation for the Presidency. Elections are conducted in Guyana by lists. A voter votes for a list of candidates, not an individual. Each list must designate a person to be its Presidential Candidate. The Presidential Candidate named in the list that obtains the highest number of votes becomes the President. The list does not have to obtain an absolute majority of votes. A plurality of votes dictates the choice. This legal position is reflected in several articles of the constitution. Article 177(1) states “any list of candidates for an election….shall designate not more than one of those candidates as a Presidential candidate.” Article 177(2)(b) states that where “there are two or more Presidential candidates, if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which a person is designated as a Presidential candidate than in favour of any other list, that Presidential candidate shall be deemed to be elected as President….” No absolute majority is prescribed.
The APNU+AFC manifesto proposals do not alter the manner of electoral choice of President at elections. These proposals include the choice of President at Presidential Elections separate from parliamentary elections, with the person obtaining the second largest number of votes becoming the Prime Minister.
The criticisms of our constitution because it did not provide for post-elections coalitions reflected some support for a choice of President after the elections. This can only be done by the National Assembly, constituted after the elections. Apart for Guyana, the only other Caricom member that has an executive President is Suriname and the Suriname President is elected by the National Assembly after the elections. Article 74 of the Suriname constitution provides that “The National Assembly has the following tasks: (a) electing the President and Vice-President and deciding on their pre-mature resignation.” The Suriname constitution also provides at Article 83(3) that “A majority of at least two-thirds of the constitutional number of members of the National Assembly shall be required for decisions concerning….(c) the election of the President; (d) the election of the Vice-President.”
By Article 181, the People’s Assembly, comprising the National Assembly, the District Assembly and the Local Councils shall be responsible for, among other things, electing by majority vote the “President and Vice-President in case none of the candidates has obtained the constitutional majority after two rounds of voting in the National Assembly.” Many other countries provide for the election of the executive president by their parliaments utilising varying methods.
Despite the debate on this issue in 2011, it is not known whether the Guyanese electorate will want to give up its direct right to the National Assembly to select the head of its government. If in the future Guyana returns to a full parliamentary system where the Prime Minister is the head of government, the electorate might agree for a ceremonial President to be elected by the National Assembly.
The effect of the cumbersome Suriname system is that, in effect, at least initially, the election of the President requires the support of two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly which means, in effect, two-thirds of the electorate. This often creates gridlock in Suriname because a candidate is unable to secure the support of such a large number of members. The consequence is that much political horse-trading, sometimes unpalatable, has to take place before a President and Vice-President can emerge. In Guyana, a President and government can be removed by a motion of no confidence, which requires only a majority vote. If Guyana eventually goes the way of Suriname by giving the National Assembly the power to choose the President, a simple majority vote in the National Assembly will avoid gridlock.