The Opposition parties are intensifying their drumbeats for changing our governance structure; arguing that our present arrangements are unsuitable for our “plural society”. They insist on “power-sharing” to ensure representatives of the several groups all be at the table when decisions are made about “who gets what, when and how”. These claims are not new in Guyana, and numerous interventions have all proven futile, which we cannot ignore. Ultimately, those who shouted, “Share, share!” the loudest, insisted on unilaterally ruling, once in office.
After the newly-formed PNC was handily defeated in the 1961 elections by the PPP, they claimed the FPTP constituency-based system — standard in Britain and its colonies, because it led to “stable governments” — led to severe underrepresentation of minorities in Parliament. The list PR system to facilitate fluidity of political support from minorities was introduced in 1964. This allowed a third party – the UF – to gain a balance of power, which they used to coalesce with the PNC to form the Government. However, the opportunity for fluid politics was crushed because Burnham kicked the UF to the kerb, to govern on his own through elections’ rigging. The lesson from this early political engineering for power-sharing confirmed the susceptibility of larger coalition partners to seize total power.
Burnham then introduced an Executive Presidency within a regime with a cooperative “non-racial” socialist ethos and teleology, as he declared the PNC “paramount” over the Government, supposedly to bridge our divisions. The 28-year-old lesson was that governments seizing power through rigging will pursue the logic to its conclusion, and rule dictatorially.
After free and fair elections in 1992 returned the PPP to office, massive riots by the Opposition PNC had by 2000 forced extensive constitutional changes which, ironically, were to reduce Executive power and empower the Opposition through Parliamentary Sectoral Committees; Parliamentary Management Committees etc; which are still in place.
The Opposition under Desmond Hoyte then began calling for Executive “power- sharing”, even as direct armed attacks against the state were launched. However, while there are two commonly proposed power-sharing methods, consociational and centripetal, the Opposition was fixated on consociationalism. This proposes a grand coalition in the Executive in proportion to votes garnered and on minority vetoes of ethnically sensitive policies. This would supposedly replace the adversarial form of Parliamentary Democracy between Government and Opposition.
But, in consociationalism, parties would still be competing for votes at elections, and when in Govt, would seek to score points; which leads to gridlock through minority vetoes. We see this, for instance, in Northern Ireland, where they fortunately have the British Government at Westminster to resolve them. In Guyana, we would have no such logjam breaker, as for instance for selection of our top judicial offices, where there is a minority veto.
By contrast, centripetalists do not propose to substitute a grand coalition regime for majority rule. They instead create incentives, principally through electoral innovations, for moderates to compromise on conflicting group claims to form interethnic coalitions and to establish a regime of interethnic majority rule. In several countries, such as Australia, these are facilitated by (for instance) the Single Transferable Vote (STV), where voters rank all candidates running even from different parties in multimember seats. The system tends to elect moderate candidates with the widest support across constituencies.
Fortuitously in Guyana, demographic changes since 2006 have created built-in conditions for centripetal power-sharing, because we are now a nation of minorities. The reluctance to adopt either of the two power-sharing prescription, as shown historically, is now moot. No one group has a clear majority or a strong plurality; rather, we have an array of groups contending for power, which can form shifting alliances. Any rational group leadership should accept they have to accommodate outside groups to gain office by moderating their ethnic claims. We have a strong judiciary to protect minority rights, if these are violated.
In 2015, the PNC and AFC demonstrated the utility of this centripetal approach when the African Guyanese-dominated PNC moderated its rhetoric and program to coalesce with the Indian Guyanese-dominated AFC. Sadly, the PNC repeated its historic compulsion for unilateral rule by asphyxiating the AFC after winning, by throwing 7000 primarily sugar workers onto the breadline.
With the present conditions rewarding moderate, cross-ethnic mobilization, it is surprising the PNC Opposition is refusing to overtly woo voters from the Indian and Amerindian constituencies, and rather condemning the PPP for so doing in African Guyanese communities.