After a hiatus, Parliament will be resuming its sittings later this week. For many citizens the prospect does not elicit much enthusiasm, invoking as it does the bitter acrimony that its previous sessions precipitated, by a recalcitrant People’s National Congress (PNC) and its micro-partners in its A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) fig leaf. This followed their desperate rear-guard action to remain in office following their defeat at the March 2, 2020 elections. While the party system has been touted as a facilitator of democracy, in our country there is a danger that the opposite conclusion might be justified if the present attitude of the PNC continues much longer.
In one of the earliest expositions of the dangers of the party system to democratic governance, one of the founding fathers of the US constitutional order, James Madison wrote about the dangers of “factions”. The latter were groups of citizens “actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” The problem we have in Guyana today stems from the inherent assumption by the PNC political party that have come to represent one of the “factions” in Guyana. Once they are out of office, they insist that their constituency’s rights are automatically racially “adversed” by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
In the workings of the party system to form a government that would steer the ship of state, the party that wins control of the Executive via the polls according to rules established by the Constitution should be allowed to present their programme as the programme of the entire polity. Generally, as occurred on March 2, 2020, such a party would have secured the majority of the votes in the General Elections and in addition to securing the Executive, would have control of the Legislature.
Our Constitution even permits the single party with a plurality of votes at the elections to form the Executive – as occurred in 2011. The PNC and the Alliance For Change (AFC) Opposition parties, which collectively controlled the Legislature, then raised the question of the PPP Government’s “legitimacy”. They argued that their greater numbers conferred greater legitimacy to them. As late as 2000, there were extensive changes unanimously made to the Constitution by all political parties then, which made it for all intents and purposes, a new constitution compared to its predecessor. These changes, however, left the clause for the party securing the plurality of the votes to assume the Executive.
In 2015, the PNC and the AFC, now a coalition, retained the 33 seats they had garnered, formed the Government and were given legitimacy by the PPP to govern, even though they had filed an election petition contesting the declaration. But here we are in 2021, where the PNC have lost the elections as adjudged by the highest Appellate Court – the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) – by a greater majority than they had accumulated in 2015, yet they refuse to concede legitimacy to the PPP Government.
We, therefore, have a situation where extreme party partisanship has reared its ugly head in the refusal by the Opposition political parties to accept the national consensus represented in the Constitutional Articles that are supposed to govern our State. For instance, by constitutional fiat, the Opposition is allowed to Chair the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the primary watchdog for governmental financial probity. But David Patterson, their nominee, has refused to step aside after he admitted to financial improprieties in office. This will not do.
The Government has reconvened Parliament to debate a motion calling for a vote of the full House to remove Patterson and have another member of the Opposition, without any baggage, to become Chair and allow the PAC to perform its constitutional functions. This PNC’s partisanship becomes even more untenable against the background of their refusal to even accept the rulings of the Judiciary, which has been granted the power to delineate powers between the arms of the State.
If Guyana is to move forward and progress, the Opposition PNC will have to temper their partisanship.