The performance of the British Labour Party in the elections last week has been spectacular. The Party’s spirited and brilliant campaign was focused on its agenda as set out in its Manifesto, “For the Many, Not the Few,” which accurately captured the aspirations of a wide cross-section of the British people, particularly the youth, motivated them and brought back those who had been swayed by the Conservatives and UKIP in the past. The enthusiastic new half a million members of the Labour Party knocked on doors and got out the vote, one of the highest in recent memory.
Jeremy Corbyn’s transformation in three weeks among his own colleagues and many supporters of Labour, from a liability, and among the Conservatives and his own right wing parliamentary colleagues, from the disorganized, incompetent, disheveled bumbler that they painted him as, to the charismatic leader that he is, has been as equally dramatic as the election results. His closest colleagues’ belief in Corbyn never faltered. They knew his potential and chose to project the 68 year-old man, his character and his qualities, before the British people, with confidence that he would effectively market Labour’s Manifesto and attract support. But the projection of his character was not done through advertisements, such as for Prime Minister Theresa May, hailing her as ‘strong and stable’ but who turned out to be ‘weak and wobbly,’ stiff and uncomfortable in interviews, afraid to face her opponents in debate, hidden from the public, and forced to withdraw the ‘dementia tax’ against the sick.
The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) had its annual general meeting on Wednesday last and elected a new Bar Council, the name of its executive. The large turn-out of lawyers at the meeting was a positive indication of reviving interest. The nominees for office, clearly identified beforehand, were unanimously elected, underlining the unity which prevailed and which was expected to continue.
For the first time in many years a senior lawyer, the distinguished Robin Stoby, Senior Counsel, the Secretary of the GBA in the 1980s, agreed to serve and was elected as First Vice President. It was a generous commitment of time by Mr. Stoby, as well as by Mr. Rajendra Poonai, a leading lawyer with decades of practicing experience, who was elected to the Bar Council, to an executive comprising the younger generation of lawyers, although most of them have had more than ten years of practice. The dominance of ‘youth’ in the Bar Council, who have wisely sought out the guidance of the ‘seniors,’ appear to have now set the stage for the rejuvenation of the GBA.
Two Fridays ago a seminar on Constitutional Reform the Process, was held at the University of Guyana. The event, which was well attended, was organized by the Carter Centre and facilitated by the British High Commission. The PPP and a cross-section of civil society were represented, but conspicuously absent was any APNU or AFC party or Government representatives. The discourse focused on why there should be constitutional reform and the process by which it should be undertaken. The event was not intended to have a formal conclusion but to have Guyanese ownership.
Many ills of the society that needed redress were identified. There were concerns that elected officials were interfering in the democratic right to protest, of political intermeddling in Amerindian affairs, of the need for equity in the society, of implementing the existing provisions of the Constitution, of educating young people about the issues, and everything in between. The debate around the issues raised was lively and energetic. The fact that the audience remained attentive and engaged throughout the three-hour event suggested that there is much interest in constitutional reform and scope for more debate.
Guyana has had a long history of struggle for electoral democracy. We have seen at first hand the devastating impact of manipulated elections on a country’s development and the psyche of a people. As it is, it will take several generations in the future for the suspicions and accusations over elections to disappear. It is not something that Guyana needs ever again.
Beginning in 1990 there were many reforms which brought about free and fair elections in Guyana. The two most fundamental reforms were an agreed Chair of the Elections Commission and counting of the votes at the place of poll. These were, of course, supplemented by many other laws, regulations and practices that were agreed to between the two main political parties and enshrined in the Constitution or in the Representation of the People Act.
The PPP unanimously decided in about 1994/5 to propose to the Select Committee on Constitutional Reform established by the Sixth Parliament (1992-1997) that a president should serve only two terms. I led the delegation, which included former President Donald Ramotar, and presented the PPP’s position.
The PPP presented the same position to the Constitutional Reform Commission (1999-2000), which I chaired. Its delegation was led by former President Donald Ramotar, then General Secretary. The two-term presidential limit, supported by the PNCR, was adopted by the Constitution Reform Commission and formed part of its recommendations. Article 90(3) of the Constitution was duly amended by Act No. 17 of 2001, unanimously passed in the National Assembly, to limit the presidential terms to two.