Dec 05, 2011 Letters
The General and Regional Elections in Guyana made its five-yearly visitation upon the nation on November 28, giving Guyana for the first time a unique constitutional political challenge.
And there are forces dissatisfied with the election results, who would like the nation to believe that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP/C) lost the election, since it did not win at least 51% of the votes. The current proportional representation electoral system stipulates that the party winning 51% of the votes can constitute a majority government.
Under existing constitutional arrangements, the PPP/C’s acquisition of a mere majority of the votes without gaining 51%, allows the PPP/C, to constitute the government, to secure the Presidency, and to remain as the ruling party.
While it may not have full control of Parliament, the President has full veto powers over practically anything presented in Parliament, which may not be in the interest of the nation. Keep in mind, too, that currently, the U.S. Democratic Party does not wield full control over the House of Representatives, the legislative arm of Congress; in fact, Democrats are in the minority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
And notwithstanding the huge challenge he faces in the U.S. House of Representatives, President Barack Obama is plodding away at improving the economy, where today, the unemployment rate was pegged at 8.6 percent, the lowest level for about two and a half years; and has called for a payroll tax reduction. For these reasons, it is not beyond the capacity of the PPP/C Administration without full majority in the unicameral legislature, to eke serious social and economic reforms in this society.
This idea of a government without the majority of seats in parliament is new to the populace of Guyana, and apparently conjures up images of instability, including the holding of several general and regional elections within the next five-year period. Keep in mind that the Guyanese people are accustomed to observing and experiencing only one general election during each five-year term.
At any rate, this notion of instability associated with a minority government cannot be discounted as historical evidence of the volatility of minority governments abound. Studies of minority governments with minority presidents present perceptions of ineffective government, persistent intensity of government-parliament conflict, and the gradual erosion of democracy. Nonetheless, this scenario has become popular because of it sole focus on the number of votes, and not on governmental performance.
Even so, the PPP/C minority government does not necessarily have to be equated with destabilization. For instance, President-elect Donald Ramotar’s PPP/C policy platforms, the President’s full veto powers, and its legislative capacity in parliament in terms of rational policies, may breed some level of cooperation among the apposite stakeholders (Negretto, 2006). Generally, one of the ways of firming up the legislative power of a government without a majority in parliament is to attract coalition parties within the cabinet; which may strengthen a government’s hand in parliament.
Anyway, constitutional arrangements in Guyana would not favor coalition party formation within the Cabinet subsequent to the elections results. For this reason, in order to reinforce the PPP/C government’s legislative and policy-oriented capacity, President-elect Ramotar would face a huge challenge, but which does not have to include offering portfolios to the opposition.
Look, the relationships between the legislature and the government (executive) in modern times define a government without a majority in parliamentary democracies; where the action is more directed toward rational policies and social problems, rather than solely on votes the parties won (Strom, 2004); and Strom noted that what could be more political than these intragovernmental relationships. The number of votes does not primarily define such intense political relationships. Politics have to do with making the lives of the poor and vulnerable better, and it is this parameter in the long run that defines the solidity of a ruling party, with or without a majority in parliament.
Studies on minority governments in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Venezuela in the 1960s and 1970s demonstrated the necessity to transform a president without majority support into a majority president, in order to sustain stability (Negretti, 2004). These governments without a majority were able to attract parties to coalesce with them to strengthen their legislative hand in parliament. But if it were just a question of beefing up numbers in parliament merely for the sake of political survival, without rationally addressing the issues at hand, even the majority presidents would not have survived. The minority presidents survived not because of solely cabinet coalitions, but because the thrust of their political energies was reenergized on introducing rational policies and problems in the interest of nation building.
It is true that in Latin America, where party coalitions are allowable after election results are declared have worked toward strengthening the legislative capacity of presidents without a majority, nevertheless, Negretti (2006, p. 65) explained that “…most of these presidents managed to govern and to implement costly economic reforms in the midst of dire social conditions.”
In fact, Negretti noted that between 1978 and 2002, Latin America democratically elected 80 presidents, and only 26 (32%) could be classified as majority presidents. Clearly, gravitation toward an aggressive focus on rational people-oriented policies and problems may be in the best interest of the PPP/C, and which may forestall petty conflicts between the government and the legislature; particularly, as studies showed that the most enduring conflict situations within a government without its full share of majority have to do with its legislative capacity (Negretti, 2006).
And at the end point in terms of political ‘staying power’, the success of a ruling party is not about the number of votes it can mobilize, it is about its government’s performance on the indicators of stability and legislative effectiveness on rational policy implementation. This is a huge challenge for the PPP/C, but it has the political experience for this kind of translation.
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