The issue of the legitimacy of rulership has been an ancient preoccupation of mankind ever since we crept out of caves and formed settlements wherein we were forced to devise rules for choosing leaders. Initially, it was probably a matter of self-selection, with the man who could wield the largest club enforcing his selection of himself as the most suitable candidate.
From that, it was not long before those rulers were legitimised by the newly developed religions, which sanctified the notion of the “divine right of kings” to rule.
In the West, it was not until Henry VIII decided to rebel against the legitimising role of the dominant European Catholic Church in the late 16th century, by insisting that his English Anglican Church could perform the role just as well, that the legitimacy question came under wider scrutiny.
By 1660, the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes proposed that legitimacy is conferred by the citizens of a country, who execute a “social contract” with their leaders. He proposed that outside of civilised society, man lived in a “state of nature” wherein life was “nasty, brutish and short”, so that it was in his interest to transfer his sovereignty to a ruler – the “Leviathan” – who would guarantee peace.
Over the centuries, the notion of the social contract remained at the centre of political philosophy as developed by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and all the way into the 20th century by John Rawls. The idea that all power and sovereignty reside in the people, which they confer to their government of choice, has now become the cornerstone of democratic legitimacy; surviving, as it has, the divine rule of kings, fascism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and the “dictatorship of the proletariat”.
At the highest level, the social contract is literally encompassed by the people forming themselves into a constituent assembly and crafting a constitution that adumbrates the terms of the contract. The government and the people, therefore, must give the greatest respect to the constitution, and breaches by either party must be dealt with condignly. History in general, and our own history in particular, has shown that the Leviathan is always prone to violating its delegated powers, and the people must have an almost reflexive reaction against this tendency. This tendency is even greater when the government in question has utilised the law of the jungle to create a constitution without the participation of the people to create the “general will” that confers on that constitution the highest legitimacy.
And this is exactly what the PNC did in the 1970s, when they rigged themselves a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, transformed that Assembly into a Constituent Assembly, and created a constitution that was never ratified by the people through a transparent sleight of hand.
The Guyana Constitution promulgated by the PNC in 1980 therefore never reflected the necessary social contract between the Guyanese people and the rulers; it merely codified the existential iron rule of the self-described “paramount party”. While there were extensive changes to the constitution in 2000, those, ironically, were occasioned by the PNC using force in the streets to “democratise” the structure of Parliament to include them in governance.
Because of this history, the PNC have very little respect for the Constitution, as far as following its rules to secure legitimacy from the people is concerned. Their antediluvian attitude is more reminiscent of the “beat them over the head” cave man theory of rulership, as illustrated most recently by their refusal to obey the Constitution’s sanctified no-confidence motion to test the legitimacy of governments. When the shoe was on the other foot, they were willing to use the NCM in 2014 to oust the PPP Government. But suddenly, when deployed by the PPP, the PNC resorted to the most blatant sophistry to remain in office.
The Guyanese people will have to look beyond partisan politics and realise that we risk toppling our entire political edifice if we allow the PNC to flaunt the rules of democratic legitimacy. Power to the people!