Before the last elections, there were calls for “shared governance” in Guyana on the assumption by its proponents that the present system of electing the Government is not “inclusive” enough. Before we discuss this claim, it might be helpful to review the system we have in place. In a much-debated move back in 1964, the British colonials changed the “First Past The Post” (FPTP) system that was almost universal in their Empire to Proportional Representation (PR), in which the entire country becomes one constituency and seats are allocated in proportion to the votes garnered by the competing parties.
After violent street protests by the People’s National Congress (PNC) following the 1997 elections which it lost, massive constitutional changes were made in an effort to address its claims that the system was neither inclusive nor representative enough. Among these changes were the introduction of four Parliamentary Sectoral Committees (PSCs) – spanning the entire spectrum of governmental activities – that could scrutinise those activities in real time. In addition, the Public Accounts Committee (chaired by the Opposition) audited the Government’s spending.
Unfortunately, the Opposition PNC, after 2001, which held two of the PSCs’ Chairs on a rotating basis, never made full use of this oversight power. It preferred to play to the gallery by making claims of “governmental excesses” in the press, when it could have prevented the claimed “excesses” by summoning the Ministers or other officials to explain their actions. The PR allocation of the 65 seats to Parliament was also amended to allocate 25 “Regional Seats” from the 10 regions based on their populations, which was intended to make these Members of Parliament more responsive to their constituencies.
So, we return to the calls for additional constitutional change for” shared governance” on the claim, once again, that the Opposition PNC is not included – this time, in the Executive. The claim is based on the premise that in Guyana, the political parties are ethnically based and, therefore, when the PNC is the Opposition, their African Guyanese constituents do not have an input into governmental policies. But this is a fallacious argument because of the present demographic composition of our population.
At one time, Indian Guyanese did form an absolute majority of the population and if they voted as a block, could have excluded other groups, including African and Amerindian Guyanese in perpetuity from the Executive. Burnham had used this argument to justify rigging elections after 1964. However, this absolute majority was gradually whittled away through emigration and the last census in 2012 showed that Indian Guyanese were now 39.8 per cent; African Guyanese 29.2 per cent; Mixed 19.9 per cent and Amerindians 10.5 per cent. The shift was reflected in the results of the 2011 and 2015 elections when the PPP’s majority in the Parliament was checkmated and then defeated by a combination of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC).
Guyana had now reached a point in its political evolution where many other plural societies had introduced all sorts of electoral innovations – such as the “alternative vote” – to have political parties reach outside their traditional constituencies to address the interests of other constituencies to agglomerate a majority to capture the Government. In 2015, the African-Guyanese-dominated APNU coalesced with the AFC that brought in a significant number of Indian Guyanese, to win the elections. Even though they had placed “shared governance” in their manifesto, they boasted about being a “multiracial” government that addressed the interests of all Guyanese.
In March, the PPP won the elections with 50.7 per cent of the popular votes and as such, had to have attracted substantial African/Mixed/Amerindian votes and have as much legitimacy as the APNU/AFC coalition it replaced. Guyana had, at last, reached the happy circumstance as Trinidad and Tobago where there is a “swing bloc” that will ensure alternating governments if the ethnic-based parties craft their policies to address the interests of all citizens and not just their core constituency.
In terms of constitutional change for our model of governance, “why change it if it ain’t broken?