One recommendation for consideration in any new Constitution
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be at the Pegasus Hotel two weeks ago where the University of Guyana had a panel discussion on the Constitution of our country. I believed that each panelist did a good job in their presentation. The moderator was excellent and was mindful of those of us who asked questions not to have a mini presentation. I was given an opportunity to ask one question which I will paraphrase. “Is constitutional reform for the benefit of the leadership of the PPP [People’s Progressive Party] and the PNC [People’s National Congress], or is it for the benefit of the people of Guyana”? Without an opportunity for elaboration at the discussion, I would like to make such presentation here.
Our current Constitution was pre-empted by a referendum on July 10, 1978. I remember this date as if it was yesterday. If you were to vote “yes” for the new Constitution, the symbol was a house, and for a “no” vote, the symbol was a mouse. During the day of the referendum, there was literally no one in the streets. You could have slept in the middle of the road and nothing would have disturbed you. All of the observers of that referendum reported that a very small percentage of voters went to the poll. I believe that the members of the Army, Police, national service and other military organisations made up the voting population of the day. Even the supporters of the PNC stayed away. When the results were announced, 419,936 “aliens” voted “yes” and 8956 persons voted “no”.
Our new Constitution came into being from a massive irregularity. The “official” Constitution came into effect on October 6, 1980. I remember the leadership of the PPP, including Dr Jagan and Moses Nagamootoo shouting from the rooftop that this Burnham Constitution must be opposed, and we must fight to replace this draconian Constitution. I said a simple prayer that God will give the PPP the opportunity to be in power so they can replace it. My prayer was answered 12 years later in October 1992. I told myself that Dr Jagan would immediately set the stage to rewrite our Constitution.
I waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing of substance happened, and as the saying goes – we get “Larwa”. Fast forward to 2015, I believed that the APNU/AFC coalition would have constitutional reform as a major priority. Again, we are getting more “Larwa”.
Our recent history at constitutional reform seems to suggest that any reform that is to be made in the Constitution must first be in the interest of, and the benefit of the leadership of the PPP and the PNC, hence my question to the panelist. The Guyanese people continue to be a “pawn” in the PPP and PNC games. Nothing of substance will emerge with these two albatross in the equation. Do the Guyanese people understand why the PPP and PNC refused to change the articles that give the presidency to the party with the most votes and the List system still remains as solid as a rock? It is in the interest of the leadership of the PPP and the PNC, and that is what matters to them.
One of my recommendations for consideration in any new Constitution is as follows: Any political party that seeks to contest any elections in Guyana, shall have in its makeup of its leadership and members, a direct proportion of the ethnic composition of the population.
This must be independently confirmed by an independent elections commission before the party is allowed to contest any election.