The power-sharing discourse

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WITH elections on the horizon, the issue of Power-Sharing or Shared Governance is once again part of the public discourse. Those who champion constitutional reform as a necessary remedy to our problems of governance and our ethnic divide, have projected power sharing among the major parties as central to a political solution.

While this is a necessary intervention at this time, it is not a new debate–it is almost six decades old. That it has not become a reality must be disappointing to its advocates but, in the final analysis, there must be consensus for such a far-reaching initiative to achieve the desired outcome.

The truth is that our political leaders have over these six decades made some efforts, both at the level of rhetoric and action. From 1961 when Eusi Kwayana, then Sydney King, on behalf of the African Society for Racial Equality (ASRE) propose joint premiership between the two major political leaders of the day to the present, there has been a spirited debate over a political solution to Guyana’s ethno-political problems. The Kwayana proposal did not find favour with the leaders and it is best remembered for the suggestion of “partition as a last resort” if the leaders reject joint premiership. Two years later, Dr Jagan, sensing power slipping away from him, proposed a similar model of power-sharing, but the PNC, assured of power, did not even entertain the proposal.

Since then the two major parties along with other political and civil society forces have expressed support for power-sharing as the best solution to the ongoing problem. After rejecting the PPP’s 1977 proposal for a National Patriotic Front government, the PNC in 1985 initiated talks with the PPP for a joint government.

Although the talks had progressed, President Burnham’s untimely death brought an abrupt end to the initiative. His successor, President Hoyte, was not convinced that that was the best direction for the PNC. Hoyte would later change his mind when, in 2002, he declared that power-sharing was an idea “whose time had come.”

The issue of power-sharing has remained alive because the ethnic voting patterns have persisted. To be fair, the PPP has been the culprit in recent times. Since the PNC’s formal embrace of the idea in 2002, it has sought to find common ground with the PPP and other parties. But the PPP when in office rejected these overtures on the grounds that the parties needed to build trust before entering into power-sharing or shared governance, which has become the preferred terminology. Many observers felt that the PPP had thrown away the best opportunity to actualise shared governance since the PNC, having concluded that it was time to move in the direction of a Government of National Unity.

It is this rejection by the PPP that forced the PNC into accommodation first with the WPA and later with the AFC to form the APNU+AFC coalition. In a sense, the PNC has shown more courage than the PPP in this regard. Its embrace of the winner-must-not-take-all was the path to power was a major breakthrough for the party and country. The PPP, for its part, continued to turn its face against shared governance even when it lost the parliamentary majority in 2011 and the presidency in 2015. It prefers a formula whereby the PPP co-opts individuals into its so-called CIVIC component. But it is generally agreed that that does not represent the letter or spirit of power-sharing. The PPP may well regret that it has not shown the same courage as the PNC in this regard.

On the other hand, while the APNU+AFC Coalition is not a Government of National Unity in its purest sense, it represents a giant step in that direction. The core of the coalition is the convergence of three known parties with dissimilar backgrounds and histories, along with three lesser known ones. It is this diversity that has served the coalition well, even if it has sometimes been a challenge. So, in a sense, we do have some degree of shared governance or power-sharing. There can be no doubt that the coalition is an abbreviated form of Shared Governance and Power-Sharing that should be encouraged. Guyana would continue to be a better political landscape because of it.