Back in the 1960s when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and People’s National Congress (PNC) were manoeuvring with the British to gain Independence, the PPP spent a great deal of time discussing the type of constitution the country would need. In fact, their Attorney General, Dr Fenton Ramsahoye actually crafted such a constitution, sui generis. Forbes Burnham, the PNC leader, (in)famously remarked that he did not care what type of Constitution he got if he were to be leader of British Guiana; once the British had departed, he would be able to introduce the type of Constitution he actually wanted.
True to his word, he led Guyana to Independence after collaborating with the British and Americans and received what has been called the generic Lancaster House, pulled from a drawer, in 1966. By 1980, he introduced his own constitution through a series of stratagems, which included the massively-rigged 1978 Referendum.
The Referendum was to have citizens bypass the need for a constitutionally-demanded referendum to approve the soon-to-be introduced Constitution. The new Constitution ironically reintroduced the stipulation that to alter the fundamental tenets of the Constitution, a referendum was needed.
From that time, PNC leaders have never given more than lip service to the Constitution, which they loudly proclaim is the “supreme law of the land” and their own creation. At the most fundamental level, this was exemplified in their rigging of elections in 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985, since while conducting the rigging they had to violate their own constitutional requisites that governed a host of institutions – the Elections Commission, the Registration of citizens, the Disciplined Forces, all the Constitutional Commissions and even the productive sector which they nationalised.
After free and fair elections in 1992, the PPP/Civic Government started the process of reforming the Constitution in 1994 to better reflect the needs of Guyana and simultaneously to abort subverting the institutions of governance through political diktat. But the entire process was derailed when the PNC protested the results of the 1997 elections, even though they were certified by a number of international observers. The constitutional change regime was intensified after PNC riots and by 2000, extensive changes were made to satisfy the PNC demands for “inclusivity”.
Sadly, even these changes did not satisfy the PNC, which appeared impelled to demand that power of the State must always reside exclusively in their hands, even if the Constitution had to be violated with impunity. After armed attacks on the State were repelled by 2008, the PNC defined the democratically-elected PPP Government as an “elected dictatorship”. Ironically, by 2011, they – as APNU – were able to capture a majority in the National Assembly with 26 seats aligned with the Alliance For Change’s 7 to give them a 33-seat majority over the PPP’s 32. The PPP retained the presidency because they collected a plurality of the popular vote.
With the PNC/APNU and AFC coalescing in 2015, they captured the presidency and the majority of 33 in Parliament and with that the old PNC perspective on constitutions resurfaced – to be used opportunistically to secure their hold on power. This was pellucid on, for instance, their subversion of the Police Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, the selection of the GECOM Chairman, and their refusal to engage in meaningful consultations with the Opposition Leader.
Their latest Constitution violation is the most serious: their refusal to comply with the pellucid language of Article 106 (6) which commands that the President and Cabinet “shall” resign if a no-confidence motion was carried. Even if they have taken the matter to the courts, this does not vitiate the order of the Constitution. The President and Cabinet’s resignation, however, must be seen in tandem with Article 106 (7), which specifies that the GOVERNMENT continues until the elections held, as per Article 106 (6) in three months, creates a new government.
From the experience of Great Britain, this means that in the interregunum, the country must be governed by both the rump government and the Opposition.