Former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran and Political Scientist, Dr. Henry Jeffrey, have often used their weekly newspaper columns to remind Guyana about the urgent need for constitutional reform as a prerequisite for a solution to our ongoing ethno-political divide. Mr. Ramkarran returned to the issue in his last two columns.
In the first column, “Still time for Constitutional Reform” (Stabroek News: October 21, 2018), he argues that APNU could be forced to honour its manifesto promise if the AFC exercises the threat of its inherent veto within the Coalition. The next column, “Political Opportunism and Constitutional Reform” (Stabroek News: October 28, 2018), makes the argument that given the entrenched culture of dominance, both the PPP and the PNC have been reluctant to share power with each other. Hence, they have never really sought to prioritize constitutional reform of governance to facilitate that outcome.
In the first column, Ramkarran quotes extensively from the APNU+AFC manifesto on the issue which outlines a mini-blueprint for a power-sharing arrangement that the coalition promised to pursue if it came to power. It has now been in power for over three years, but it has failed to treat the issue with any sense of urgency.
As Ramkarran observed, the issue was not even mentioned by the President in his most recent address to the legislature. I think that in addition to the reasons explained by Ramkarran, there are some intra-coalition dynamics that explain the coalition’s inability to pursue constitutional reform. These have to do with one of my biggest criticisms of the coalition—the anti-coalition praxis of the coalition government.
In the first instance, the commitment to power-sharing in the Coalition’s manifesto came mostly from APNU’s side. Although the AFC committed to constitutional reform, it never was a big advocate of power-sharing. One of its principal founder-leaders, Khemraj Ramjattan, some years ago publicly poured cold water on the concept. In fact, although Nagamootoo and Trotman are not hostile to power-sharing and constitutional reform, it was Nigel Hughes who was actually the AFC’s serious advocate.
The section in the manifesto quoted by Ramkarran is the product of input from the WPA and the power-sharing wing of the PNC, both of which had championed the issue prior to the formation of APNU. In fact, APNU is actually the product of an alliance between the WPA and this wing of the PNC. Further, the public should know that the WPA was very central to the writing of APNU’s manifesto, which then became the basis for the APNU+AFC manifesto.
The WPA was also a critical voice in articulating that vision to voters during the 2011 election campaign. In other words, the larger vision articulated in the manifesto arose out of the joint praxis of the WPA and the progressive intellectual wing of PNC. In fact, some of the power-sharing proposals in the manifesto were lifted from a PNC proposal published some years ago.
But here is the problem, which Ramkarran understandably misses. The architects of the power-sharing proposals and the attendant constitutional reform promise in that regard are not part of the Coalition Government. The WPA, apart from the mostly symbolic presence of Dr. Roopnarine, plays no role in shaping government or coalition policy agenda and policy content. The power-sharing-constitutional reform wing of the PNC is not in government and plays minimal or no role at all in the workings of the government. Nigel Hughes is out of government and from all indications, he is not even active in the AFC.
In other words, the individuals who oversee government are not ideologically committed to or associated with power-sharing and constitutional reform. And since Cabinet members do not function as delegates of their respective parties, they do not take party directives to that body.
I am arguing here that the Cabinet has emerged as a body autonomous from the parties that make up the coalition. So, it’s no accident that power-sharing and constitutional reform are not part of the government’s agenda. I believe that Nagamootoo was personally committed to power-sharing, but although he is Prime Minister, his influence is minimal in the current coalition dynamics.
I am, therefore, arguing that the APNU and AFC sections that dominate the government have little interest in power-sharing as a means to a political end or as an end in itself. They will pay lip service, if asked about the issues, but there is no deep ideological commitment to them as vision and policy. Asking the AFC to fight for power-sharing and constitutional reform, as Ramkarran suggests, is asking too much of the party. That instinct in the party lies with Hughes, who is not a player in government or party.
The WPA, of which I am a part, is still committed to power-sharing as a political solution to our problems. That logic drove us into a difficult alliance with the PNC and later with the AFC. For us, APNU and the Coalition represent “halfway power-sharing.” But the failure of the Coalition to live up to that expectation is most disappointing.
This writer appeared before the Hughes’ Committee in his individual capacity, but the WPA has not been engaged. Although the Prime Minister knows of the WPA’s long track record on power-sharing and constitutional reform, he has never formally met with the party to discuss the issue.
Ironically, during the last constitutional reform exercise, the WPA, despite its one member on the commission, played a central role in the thinking and drafting of reforms that were squeezed out of the two big parties. Suffice to say that the WPA stands ready to engage in any serious constitutional reform process. But, there is no forum within APNU or the Coalition for us to advance our ideas.
I say all the above to conclude that we are not likely to get any serious constitutional reform of governance from this coalition unless the decision-making process is opened up to allow the interested forces within the coalition to meaningfully participate. I don’t see that happening—there is too much water under the bridge. The current leadership of the government does not want the WPA and the progressive wing of the PNC anywhere near the real exercise of power. And constitutional reform of governance is not part of the DNA of the AFC.
In the end, the PPP gets off the hook; that party is not being put to the test. I don’t think the PPP, for tactical reasons, wants power-sharing now, but they are not being pressured to reject it out of hand and suffer the consequences. Further, from an ethnic standpoint, constitution reform of governance could assure African Guyanese some insurance against institutional marginalization from power. That their political leaders don’t see that simple dynamic speaks to a political backwardness that has always baffled me.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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