In a lengthy article written in 2011 before the general elections of that year, for “Freedom House” on “Countries at the Crossroads 2011: Guyana,” Assistant Professor Joan Mars, of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice of the University of Michigan-Flint, said: “Elections are constitutionally due to be held in 2011. Calls by the political opposition for shared governance have not been endorsed by the ruling PPP/C administration headed by President Jagdeo; with its consistent absolute majority in parliament, the PPP/C has had little incentive to agree to share power, but the idea may be gathering momentum as a major rallying point in the forthcoming elections.“ Assistant Professor Mars, a former practising lawyer in Guyana, concluded: “The current system of majority rule should be reformed to provide for a power-sharing model that is representative of the ethnic diversity in the population. This would reduce the adverse effects of racial voting and promote minority inclusion in governance.” This conclusion is shared by many in Guyana, and by a long– suffering electorate, whose sentiments are exploited by the main political parties when they periodically declare their support for shared or inclusive governance, especially at election time, and when they see political advantage in it.
The election results of 2011 are well known. The PPP/C was not returned with an absolute majority for the first time since 1992, but with a plurality of 32 votes over 33 for the combined Opposition. With unimaginative inflexibility, the minority PPP/C Government, true to the culture of securing dominance, did not even discuss internally the issue of a coalition arrangement with one or both of the opposition parties. It was entitled to form a minority government and did so. As expected with minority governments everywhere in the world, but perhaps not by the PPP/C, the Government fell after three years of political turmoil.
Both the President and Prime Minister accepted the outcome of the confidence vote. The President said that the Government will abide by it and “facilitate the smooth functioning of the general and regional elections…”. The Government has now changed his mind, will question the Speaker’s ruling, has reneged on his commitment that “the relevant constitutional provisions will kick in” and has grabbed a flimsy lifeline thrown to the Government by Mr. Nigel Hughes. Ridiculously puerile excuses by the Prime Minister, reflecting a desperate attempt of the Government to stay unlawfully in office in violation of all norms of democratic, constitutional and lawful conduct, were relied on.
The Speaker will now be asked to act as a policeman and investigate whether Mr. Charrandass Persaud was bribed, and also whether the majority should have been 34 and not 33, having repeatedly ruled since 2015, and having been accepted by the Government since 2011, that a majority is 33. These are ominous developments, which will bring ridicule to Guyana and to the APNU+AFC Government, derail the democratic process and have grave implications for Guyana’s future and for Parliamentary democracy.
What transpired in the National Assembly on Friday evening was always a distinct possibility, ,with the Government’s one seat majority. Election results mean something. In 2011, the electorate told the PPP/C that it wants that party to join in a coalition to manage the affairs of the nation. The PPP/C ignored the message. The electorate removed it from office in 2015. Then it proceeded to give the APNU+AFC coalition a mere one seat majority. This conveyed another message – that the APNU+AFC coalition government should proceed cautiously and engage with the Opposition.
The coalitionlikewise ignored the message, overreached and governed as if it had a sweeping mandate. Now, like the PPP, it has paid the price. Arrogance, meaning the ignoring of the message of the electorate, rather than humility, that is, frequent consultation with, and listening to, the concerns of supporters and backbenchers, such as Mr. Charrandas Persaud, appears to be an ingrained habit of the main political parties.
Why has the Government failed to proceed with constitutional reform to implement the proposals contained in its manifesto for the 2015 general elections? According to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the blame for the delay lies at the feet of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform. He said that a draft Constitution Reform Bill has been before the Committee but that the Committee has yet to consider it. As if in answer, a news item appeared on Friday stating that the Standing Committee will be meeting. The results of the meeting are not known at the time of writing.
Readers will recall that the coalition’s core manifesto proposals for constitutional reform for the 2015 elections include separate presidential elections, the person gaining the second highest votes becoming the prime minister and any party gaining 15 percent or more of the votes being entitled to a share in the government.
At the Georgetown mayoral elections on November 30, AFC Councillor Michael Leonard was nominated by his lone colleague. Having only two members, no one seconded the nomination and it was declared to be invalid. This event, embarrassing for the AFC, symbolizes the declining from its heyday in 2005 when Raphael Trotman, Khemraj Ramjattan and Sheila Holder, all MPs representing the three parties represented in the National Assembly – the PNCR, the PPP and the WPA – decided to establish the AFC. There was great anticipation by many who had become jaded with the main political parties, the PPP and the PNCR. Adding to the expectation was the fact that the landscape was arid. The WPA, the last party of significance that had attracted a degree of popular support, had been established in 1974. However, by the time free and fair elections returned in 1992, it had lost traction and failed to achieve significant electoral support. It obtained 2.4 percent in 2001, which it contested with the Guyana Action Party. The TUF, which was established in 1960, obtained 16 percent support at the 1961 elections. Returning at the 1980, after an absence during the 1970s, it could only persuade 2.9 percent of the electorate to support it. At the local government elections recently held, the AFC secured only 3.9 percent support, after having obtained 10 percent in the 2011 general elections.
The AFC is at a fork in the road. Logic would suggest that it should take the bend leading to independence. Necessity for survival, as the AFC would perceive it, would force it to take the bend leading to further subservience to APNU. At the time when the AFC was established, the nature of the Guyanese electorate was changing. The decrease in the Indian population and the growth of the Amerindian and Mixed populations, together with the dominance of ethnic considerations in politics, were having an impact on voting patterns. Most important, the middle class which had been decimated by impoverishment and migration in the 1970s and 1980s had grown again and was impatient with ethnic politics and insufficiently robust economic growth, which was possible as the latter Hoyte and early Jagan years had shown. The economic benefits which were later available to business did not reach the rungs of emerging entrepreneurs, while they saw favoured ones benefiting handsomely from ‘connections.’