State power has always been excessive in Guyana. This has provided currency to the argument advanced recently by one letter-writer, Ferlin Pedro, for political power to be limited before it is shared.
Pedro’s argument is that a vital aspect of power is its limitations, especially powers bestowed upon the Presidency or the executive branch in general. He posited that power sharing without limitation is an oligarchical means to an end.
His contention that all democracies are prone to oligarchic rule is contestable. But that is a matter to be discussed at another time. He argues essentially that the country’s political system is structured in such a way that it favours an immensely racial oligarchical system. As such, he feels that rotational power sharing mechanisms would not dismantle the oligarchic establishment.
The notions of power sharing which have been advanced thus far – in what may be a long-forgotten debate which became more pronounced during and just after the Janet Jagan presidency – is not based on any system of rotational power.
The options which were left on the table related to models such as consociational democracy as proposed by Arend Lijphart; an adaptive model of federalism as proposed by Ravi Dev and shared governance as proposed by APNU+AFC during the 2015 elections campaign, but which it seems to have discarded.
While much of the focus on power sharing has in the past revolved around the need for it as a solution to the country’s so-called political problem, not much attention has been paid to the need to limit the powers which the Executive possesses.
Pedro deserves credit for at least reminding the nation that this is an issue which should not be swept under the carpet.
During the Constitutional reform process which followed the 1997 elections, there were reductions in the powers of the President. For one, the President is now subject to sanction for acts which is done in his private capacity and his government (not him in his personal capacity) can be held liable for actions done as President.
This was one of the outcomes of a constitutional challenge which took place after the license of a broadcaster was suspended following claims that he made inflammatory statements during a national crisis.
The President was also required to consult meaningfully with the Leader of the Opposition with respect to certain constitutional appointments. But not even the local courts could have curtailed the abuse of this power with respect to certain appointments. It had to take resort to the CCJ to nullify an unlawful appointment as Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Despite the paring down of the powers of the President, the office holder still possesses full Executive Authority. This has led to the view that unchecked Presidential power can lead to tyranny within the government, where not even Cabinet can rein in any action he or she chooses to undertake.
There have been suggestions elsewhere made that Cabinet should have a veto on Presidential power. This would be an important means of checking the powers of the President, which can be used to make Ministers and public officials subservient to the President’s beck and call.
Executive power remains formidable. And citizens can be made to feel helpless under the yoke of this power, especially considering the costs and time involved in seeking judicial review.
From this perspective, limits on Executive power and not only Presidential power may be worth considering before any discussion about power sharing restarts. If it ever restarts….because one gets the distinct impression that both of the country’s main political parties are comfortable with autocratic rule.
(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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