The late Satnarayan Maraj, the Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha of Trinidad and Tobago, and a close personal friend of former Guyanese President Desmond Hoyte, appeared once on a television program with others to discuss race relations. During the course of the discussion, the issue of power sharing emerged.
Maraj, at this point, interjected and asked rhetorically why it was that only when an Indian government is in power that the calls for power sharing are intensified. It is an observation worth repeating again, now that it appears as if the PPPC has won the 2020 general and regional elections but is being denied its right to assume the government.
The calls for power sharing are once again being intensified. The official results have not yet been declared, yet the calls have been vocal for power sharing, including its euphemism, a new model of governance.
But where were those calls when APNU+AFC won a razor-slim majority of less than 5,000 votes in the 2015 elections? If ever the results of an election suggested the need for power sharing, it was the 2015 polls. Those who under the PPPC were vocal in advocating power sharing and shared governance became muted.
APNU+AFC had promised that when they won the elections, the PPPC would have been part of the government. They did not keep this promise.
The PPPC was never keen on sharing executive power. They argued that there was first a need to establish trust among the contending parties. The architect of the PPPC’s paper on power sharing, which emphasizes the need for trust, was a member of the APNU+AFC government.
The PPPC failed during its tenure to foster the political trust which they claimed was needed. They did make substantive changes to the constitution, including reducing the powers of the presidency and requiring greater consensus in certain appointments to public offices. These changes were never going to be enough to remove the mistrust which has traditionally characterized the relationship between the PPPC and APNU+AFC.
That mistrust shows no sign of abating. Even as the country faces its gravest crisis ever in the form of the coronavirus threat, the two are still locking horns over who won the 2020 elections. Not even the threat of a deadly pandemic can bring these two parties together.
Power sharing appears to be an attractive proposition for multiracial countries like Guyana where there are two major ethnic blocs. But power sharing also has its disadvantages. For one, there are not enough successful examples of power sharing around the world to provide comfort that it will work here in Guyana. Critics have suggested that it will lead to gridlock in decision-making.
Secondly, as Desmond Hoyte once argued, it removes an important democratic check, the role of an Opposition. Thirdly, it institutionalizes race-voting and has the potential of marginalizing smaller political parties.
It has become quite the norm for Westminster-style democracy to be pilloried in order to establish the need for an alternative model. But without electoral democracy there can be no means of assessing the will of the people or even determining their consent for power sharing.
It would amount to rule by political elites, to refuse to ask the people to approve of any power sharing model via a referendum. And small parties must be accommodated within any system of shared governance.
Sharing power cannot become the basis for one side staying in power against the will of the people. Electoral democracy must not become a victim of shared governance; power sharing must be based on democracy, helping to determine the relative configurations around which power and decision-making will be apportioned.
It is untenable to ask the PPPC and APNU+AFC to sit down and work out a model of power sharing when one side feels cheated at the elections. It is like asking a woman and man to reconcile while the man continues to have an ongoing affair and refuses to give up his illicit affair outside of his marriage.
Before, therefore, Guyana attempts to re-launch another round of dialogue on shared governance or power sharing, it has to first settle its electoral woes. Shared governance cannot be established on autocracy. The government operates at times in an autocratic manner with little or no checks. Just look at the unprofessional manner in which the police evicted those persons from the Convention Centre. That is a sign of a brewing dictatorship.
Power sharing is necessary, but let us first give democracy a chance. Settle this electoral quagmire so that no side feels cheated and then re-launch a dialogue of an inclusive model of governance, and put it to the people in a free, fair, credible and transparent referendum. No rigging allowed!
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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