Time for constitutional reform towards an inclusive form of democratic governance


Dear Editor
The articles on the Guyana elections that have been published recently in the Jamaican press are not very helpful. They give the impression that commitment to democracy in Guyana is not only in question, but is simply a matter of winner takes all (WTA).

Even if that winner scrapes in with a one-seat majority. WTA has been, under both parties, and indeed for the past 70 years of acrimony and stagnation, an unworkable, ineffective form of governance in Guyana, and would be more so now when newly-found huge petroleum wealth is at stake. Seven decades of racial strife, leaving Guyana, a country of immense human and natural resources, among the poorest of the poor in our hemisphere, cannot be ignored. More than flag-waving slogans of so “democracy” are essential.

Indeed, even the Carter Center, who first brokered free and fair elections (FFE) in Guyana, recognised in their election monitoring Statement that not only must irregularities be corrected, but that the parties should now return to constitutional reform, that is, towards negotiating a more inclusive form of democratic governance. None of the contributors in the Jamaican press articles have recognised or even mentioned this fundamental prerequisite. Indeed, this was the original premise under which FFE was negotiated, only to be ditched when one or the other of the parties was elected.

The PPP reneged on this understanding for the 23 years they were in power. And so too the APNU + AFC when they were in power for the last five years. WTA was never intended to be a permanent form of democratic governance in Guyana. It will not be acceptable either to the Afro-Guyanese people or to the Indo-Guyanese people— whichever party rightly wins the election. It can only be a recipe for continued ineffective governance, at best, or eventually for the outbreak of violence.

Many countries , all over the world, where there are deep- rooted, irreconcilable divisions – usually religious, tribal, racial — have found it necessary to devise forms of inclusive democratic governance that accommodate their particular circumstances . And the International Community, notwithstanding the lofty pronouncements and implicit threats of representatives of the US, UK and some Caribbean Community governments, has understood this, and in some instances have assisted such societies in devising those inclusive democratic structures (and in a few extreme instances have even gone so far as to legitimise partitions). For example, national unity governments, of various kinds, have been put in place, to name but a few countries, in Ireland, Croatia, Israel, Kenya, Lebanon, Nepal, Palestine, Sri Lanka, and most recently Afghanistan.

In the present context of Guyana, this mean that an honest determination of the results of the election should proceed concurrently with a time-bound commitment to the negotiation of constitutional reform towards an inclusive form of democratic governance — whichever party should honestly win the election. True, there is no fool- proof system of effective, harmonious governance, but after 70 years of stagnating dysfunction, something else deserves to be tried. National governance is of course much more difficult work than one-party rule, and more reliant on quality of leadership, but there are several working models. To proceed with business as usual, paying lip service to so-called “democracy”, would be an invitation to disaster.
Havelock Brewster CCH
(former Ambassador of Guyana to the European Union, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands)