Dear Editor,

The role of law, especially in new and fragile democracies, Guyana being a case in point, should not be underestimated or taken for granted. It is law through rules and institutions that creates democracy and puts limits on a democratic majority government. Thus, law cannot be understood in isolation from the rest of human culture, and this close relationship is especially significant in the ways that societies craft their fundamental legal order.

When we speak of democracy, we are referring to a set of rules and institutions that afford the people an opportunity to be involved in their government through elections, referenda, legislatures, etc. These rules and institutions are themselves legal creations. However, unless they are formalized in law, they are likely to be unstable, obscure, and inaccessible to the populace. The written constitution establishes these rules and institutions in a way that makes them difficult to change, and in time these rules and institutions come to be regarded as integral to the experience of the country. In some cases, these rules and institutions are the product of statutes created by legislatures or regulations issued by executive or administrative agencies. Either way, the rules and institutions are constitutional in that they fundamentally establish the democratic order. In turn, this fundamental legal ordering creates democracy through shaping the structure and operation of government.

However, for a democracy to be successful, it must not merely revolve around and focus on contests for power and control through elections. Instead, a stable democracy must rest on a culture rooted in the rule of law, which provides norms that limit the power of those who win elections. It should always be kept in mind that while winning allows those in power certain legally defined prerogatives, losing should not subject the minority faction(s) to the untrammelled will of those in government. So, while the constitution creates some of these limits, even these depend on the cultural disposition of the citizens to follow the rules.

In closing, examples abound that democracy works best when the citizens broadly embrace a network of norms regarding the limits of political power. In other words, for democracy to work, citizens must generally support the constitutional regime even when they lose particular political battles. However, this can only happen when the populace, and more so, those entrusted with governing the sociopolitical and economic affairs, understand and respect the fundamental legal ordering that limits democracy through shared culture and the rule of law. To expect adherence from one group/faction when the other, in this case the government, flouts the rule of law is far-fetched in our emerging democracy. Those who wield power must set the example. In essence, the most fundamental commitment of those in power should be to the law that both creates and limits democracies. Sadly, however, such commitment to and respect for the rule of law are lacking in Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Ronald Singh

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