I wish to address some concerns regarding shared-governance which is being advocated as a way forward for Guyanese politics. I want to briefly explore what some political commentators have said about shared-governance and its role in transcending politics in Guyana.
Undoubtedly, the political system and its institutions in Guyana must change for the better. What the ideal framework should look like has room for much debate since there are a plethora of possible ideas. However, there is one proposal that is commonly praised by political commentators, that is the need for shared-governance or power-sharing. But is it a viable alternative to the existing framework of representative democracy? Not necessarily. Is it required to evolve Guyanese politics out of its ethnocentric politics—the crucial issue shared-governance aims to reconcile? It depends on how we define shared-governance, the definition of which is often said to be granting ‘equal’ executive power across the spectrum of partisanship.
Prominent leaders of the A New and United Guyana (ANUG) political party, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran and his colleague, Mr. Henry Jeffrey, both argue that to circumvent the existing ‘winner-take-all’ model Government would have to change its paradigm to a ‘win-win’ complex. How exactly? They do not go further than this. But what is implicit in their suggestion is the sustenance of the majoritarian political parties–the PPP/C and the PNCR–and their traditionally attributed ethnic identities– Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese respectively. Perhaps the assumption is that each party would not evolve to comprise of multi-ethnic constituents to the point where ethnocentric politics does not become a key characteristic of theirs.
Based on my understanding of the public discourse, shared-governance is praised because of its inclusionary function—a bipartisan model which gives both majoritarian parties, the PPP/C and the PNCR, a leveled field in decision making and governing, which could potentially reduce ethnic tension between the predominantly Indo-Guyanese (PPP/C) and Afro-Guyanese (PNCR) parties. Minority parties, too, could have integral roles to play, with some power granted. Sounds familiar? Today we have a multi-ethnic, multi-party coalition government which some would say addresses what shared-governance is meant to provide. But the model sought by Mr. Ramkarran and others does not seem to think shared-
governance is akin to a multi-party coalition government. Regardless, what seems to be integral for any shared-governance model is bipartisanship. Herein lies a possible dilemma, one which broadly affects the efficacy of a shared-governance democracy.
The dilemma has to do with the nature of bipartisanship and what it lacks from partisanship. We must understand how these two notions shape the political situation in Guyana’s context. Partisanship, that is expressing or endorsing strong support for a political party, is good for democracy but it tends to promote segregation instead of compromise. It also leads to polarization, which tends to negatively intensify political relations at every social level. But it does help to build political contenders who become opposition or critics to the sitting government. Ideally, a good democracy would have the National Assembly filled with independent parties with differing partisan agendas but hold national interest as paramount.
In contrast, bipartisanship aims to promote collaboration between majoritarian parties, essential to any form of shared-governance. This in turn provides a pathway for nonpartisan relations. However, one glaring problem is that political disputes become reduced among contending ideologues or parties. Debates may even be artificially orchestrated, resulting in collusion to sustain the status-quo. This is devastating for democracy since political figures who are supposed to be contenders of policy and legislation simply present the perception that they are or become dormant.
Furthermore, a bipartisan approach to majoritarian parties without suitable opposition, equal in force and influence, provides no opportunity to transcend beyond the status-quo. Evidently, we see this to be the case with the two-party dichotomy between the PPP/C and the PNCR, both of which are adamant about dismantling their traditional ethnocentric persona. Consequently, this puts Guyana’s political situation in a state of stasis and, for the most part, a democratic deadlock. The saying “people will just vote for race anyway” has weight.
So how should we address this scenario in any shared-governance model? One possible way to counter this deadlock is by invoking civil society to become democratically invigorated to create necessary opposition and to spawn new partisan initiatives. It starts with civic engagement which the democratic framework allows for and becomes important to prevent the danger of an authoritarianism which breeds and thrives on ethnic segregation and hostility, one which Guyana has systematically endured for decades.
Even if the majority parties formed an alliance or coalition in the name of shared- governance, theirs would be a form of tyranny of the majority because of this bipartisan maneuver, whereby minority parties or independents would have little to no influence on politics and its direction. For instance, land rights issues regarding indigenous peoples continue to this day because it is not prioritized due to the ethnocentric ideals of the current political dichotomy. Thus, any proponent of shared-governance must have a mechanism built-in to ensure political minorities become elevated in terms of representation and having some degree of voice in affecting political outcomes.
However conceived, shared-governance must be democratic, that is possess an independent opposition, undermine a potential tyrannical majority, and allow civil society and citizen engagement on policy and legislative matters.