Aug 09, 2020 Editorial Comments Off on Enhancing Parliamentary Democracy
The inauguration of Guyana’s ninth executive President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, now a done deal, today provides a brief respite, a day of rest before the business of the country goes full steam ahead from tomorrow.
The new administration has the critical benefit going for it that it is not really a new administration, per se. After 23 years in power, from 1992 to 2015, the machinery of the current public service was forged by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, particularly under the leadership of former President and now Vice-President, Bharrat Jagdeo. The past five years of the Granger administration will be considered in the not so distant future not so much on its own merit but at best a glorified interregnum in the rule of the PPP/C. Whether this ultimately is a good thing for democracy in this country is to be determined in the future. For now, the people have spoken and the burdens and responsibilities of leadership have fallen on now President Ali.
In his address yesterday, the President said:
“In our Manifesto we pledged to pursue inclusionary Constitutional Governance.
I intend to see that pledge is implemented. To do so will require certain constitutional reforms which will be formulated in consultation with the people. We will conduct a national conversation in which all ideas will contend, and all voices will be heard. And, always, we will enhance parliamentary democracy, support an independent and efficient judiciary and ensure that the rule of law and the constitutional rights of every Guyanese are respected by all.”
His actions over the next few weeks will determine whether this is an honest, heartfelt opinion on his part or whether, like his immediate predecessor, it is merely platitude and posture. The reality of governance for the past forty years is that no President has had the courage or the will to do two interconnected things – reform the 1980 Constitution to reduce and redistribute what are effectively hyper-Presidential powers, and to start a much needed, structured process of national reconciliation.
President Ali’s manifesto did indeed mention inclusionary governance based on the current constitution which indeed allows for inclusion across the political aisle, but by bringing political opponents under the complete control of the executive. This has its effective mirror in, or is an extension of, the single list system, wherein a list of candidates is voted on and is headed by a single person who has the complete and unfettered authority to make and unmake parliamentarians. This has to change and the new President cannot be ignorant of the direction his government needs to head in if his true intention is to “enhance parliamentary democracy”, which is that the citizens of Guyana must be able to directly elect their members of parliament according to the constituency they live in. In turn, those members of a particular constituency must have the power to recall an elected official.
Power is no doubt a difficult thing to wield – it is likely a harder thing to voluntarily concede, a lesson we’ve had our fill of over the past five months. The decision to engage in a process that will ultimately put more power into the hands of people, and give them more direct control over their elected representatives in the national legislature is one that requires the sort of leadership that a mere executive president cannot provide – it requires the leadership of a statesman. Dr. Irfaan Ali has been elected, with a single parliamentary seat majority, as President of Guyana; his reelection will likely depend on whether he can transform himself into a statesman. The most accurate indicator of that will be whether he keeps to his promise of facilitating that national conversation in which all ideas are heard, including the fundamental ideas on how best to enhance parliamentary democracy.
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