Back in the 1930s, the young constitutional scholar Carl Lowenstein noted with alarm the rise of fascism in his native Germany, with its adherents, like Adolph Hitler, using some of the mechanisms of democracy to undermine and eventually strangle it. He came up with the notion of “Militant Democracy”, which posits that “a constitutional core had to be upheld and defended against antidemocratic movements by legal instruments as well as by the people’s attitude towards democracy and its liberties. It especially seeks to limit the power of the enemy within the democratic constitutional order so that democracy could not be overthrown by using democratic means. In other words, there should be no ‘Trojan horse’ for the enemies of the democratic constitution.”
In Guyana today, it is very clear that democracy is under threat from the poisoned rhetoric and actions of the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led coalition in the wake of the success of the People’s Progressive Party’s no-confidence motion, which was reaffirmed by the Speaker of the National Assembly and transmuted into a binding resolution. Nothing could be clearer than the intent of the framers of the Constitution when they crafted Article 106 (6). They commanded that the President and Cabinet “shall” resign if a no-confidence motion was carried. Even if the Government has taken the matter to the courts, this does not vitiate the order of the Constitution. The President’s and Cabinet’s resignation must work 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 interregnum, the country must be governed by both the sacked Government and the Opposition. There can absolutely be no initiatives of major import undertaken without the acquiescence of the Opposition. The Natural Resource Bill – which is the name of our Sovereign Wealth Fund – that would control the spending of our oil revenues, however, was passed by the “sacked” Government when the Opposition was not even in the National Assembly. This was akin to using a weapon of mass destruction on our democracy as undergirded by our Constitution.
For the Government spokesman to now assert that the Government will now proceed “as normal” is a direct attack on our democratic norms that have been honed over the centuries in Great Britain, where our parliamentary model of governance was founded. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, called a vote of no confidence against the Labour Government of James Callaghan and won 311-310. Callaghan did not take recourse to the courts to claim that 311 was not the majority in a House with 621 members. This was democracy in accordance when there was not even a written constitution: civilised democracies stick to the spirit of their democratic practices.
The concept of “majority” in democratic political institutions that were devised to legitimise the will of the people had been accepted through the ages as the subset that is greater than all the other subsets combined. To resort to the sophistry of inventing “half-bodies” to demand that the majority should be 34 is another weapon of mass destruction deployed against our democracy. For the PNC-led Government to claim, after accepting that 33 seats gave it the majority in our National Assembly to form the Government in 2015, that those same 33 seats are now not a majority to remove it is an absurdity that cannot be countenanced. It presents the identical scenario witnessed by Lowenstein where Hitler was able to seize the German Government for his fascist agenda.
This is the time when all Guyanese who are concerned that we do not return to the Burnhamite dictatorship of 1968-1992 must rise to the defence of our nation by practising Militant Democracy. The courts must rule that the PNC is estopped traducing democracy through their casuistry and the nation must say, thus far and no further.
We must all practise Militant Democracy now.