Power Sharing: Towards a New Political Culture

Power Sharing: The way Forward
Race, Democracy and Power Sharing
Rodney did have a view on Power Sharing

Posted February 18th. 2003. - by David Hinds

Power Sharing: The way Forward

Power Sharing has re-emerged as a leading factor in Guyana's unfolding political debate. This new phase has been precipitated by the PNC's official announcement that it is ready to press forward on the issue, but more importantly by Mr. Hoyte's passing. There have been many endorsements of, or support for, the idea from persons who have either not commented on it before or were opposed to it.

As one of the persistent advocates over the last few years, I welcome this development as an indication that, despite our difficulties, Guyanese have the capacity to rise above our apprehensions and suspicions and bat for our country in the interest of nationhood. In this regard, I want to single out the PNC; Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, whose article on the subject was a welcome expression of patriotism; Drs. Tara Singh and Dhanpaul Narine, two New York based Guyanese; and Mr. Charles Griffith, another US based Guyanese. But the public interventions of the Vic Purans, Jerome Khans, Hamley Cases, Lincoln Lewises, Patrick Yardes carry equal weight. The reigning Calypso Monarch, the Mighty VJ, eloquently speaks for all of us on this issue.

We power sharers must claim no monopoly on this subject or credit for its survival as part of our political landscape. As Patrick Yarde reminds us, the case for power sharing is strengthened by the absence of an adequate form of democratic governance. We have said over and over again that power sharing is not a perfect system, but it has the potential to do for Guyana what other systems have not done: allow both our major race groups, through their elected representatives, to share the burdens of governance.

The PPP and Power Sharing

Of the active and organized political and social forces in Guyana, the PPP stands alone in its rejection of power sharing. But judging form President Jagdeo's presentation and the subsequent clarifications by Mr. Robert Persaud and other PPP functionaries, Freedom House is more confused than anything else. In remaining true to its strongly held position that it will not give up any portion of its current term, it advances another holding agenda of "first build trust," "dialogue," and " power sharing in parliament." There is a reasonable ring to this agenda, but it quickly fades because it is advanced in the interest of party survival rather than the country's survival.

For the PPP's proposals to make any sense they have to be qualified. Trust will not even stir between the PPP and the PNC unless both parties agree that neither one should have monopoly on power where it matters. So long as the PPP insists on cooperation and dialogue while holding on to absolute power in both the executive and legislative branches, trust is a non-starter. The dialogue process was tried and it failed because the two parties were talking as unequals in formal power terms: the PPP had the power to implement or not implement while the PNC had little or no meaningful recourse within the constitutional structures to either stop or push the PPP. The PNC then went outside the formal structures and in the process legitimized a parallel political order that has challenged the formal order with telling consequences.

Finally, power sharing in parliament can begin only if the rules of parliament change to ensure that the ruling party cannot automatically use its majority to dominate and the parliament is transformed into a separate and independent pole of decision-making. In other words, there must not only be power sharing in parliament, but between parliament and the executive. The absence of institutionalized or constitutional dominance is inherent in power sharing whether in parliament or cabinet. If the PPP is not prepared to move in this direction, its governance proposals are useless.

What to Do?

Instead of grandstanding about trust and winning the next election, the PPP and the PNC should be seeking to cooperate and put an end to the violence that has plagued Guyana this past year. The violence has exposed a fragile state. That the president has had to complain about the army not following his orders speaks volumes. The state in Guyana is in deep crisis. The coercive arm from all indications is in disarray, while the administrative arm, the government, is paralyzed. At the bottom of all this is race and political tribalism. The so-called "Taliban resistance" and the "Phantom Group" are now calling the shots and holding their masters at ransom.

To continue treating the violence as non-political is to continue to aid and abet social disintegration. If there is no rule of law, movement towards political reconciliation is meaningless. In this regard Mr. Corbin's omission of the violence as a substantive issue to be discussed with the other opposition parties and with President Jagdeo is unacceptable. Power sharing or any sharing is contingent upon and end to the violence, which, I continue to contend, is political. And by political, I mean partisan. The women, as represented by WAVE, have started the job and it's a sad commentary that some of those who have welcomed the PNC's move to power sharing and other important organizations have not welcomed and supported WAVE's initiative. The two are tied together. There can be no power sharing, no trust, no meaningful dialogue, no peace, no justice, no forward movement, and nothing positive if the violence is not stooped.

The PNC's agreement to power sharing means that the process in that direction, despite the PPP's rejection of executive power sharing, cannot be turned back without more serious consequences. But there has to be a timetable for its implementation and some pre-requisites must be put in place almost immediately. The first stage must be a transition period that does the following things: proclaim a political ceasefire between the PPP and the PNC; restore the rule of law so that, among other things, people can live in their villages without fear of attacks, the police can stop executing people at will, and policemen can go about their legitimate duties without fear of murder; divide the power of decision making between the governing party, which should continue to control the executive branch, and the opposition parties, which should hold the balance of power in the parliament; actively address poverty as a national emergency; transform the parliament into a hub of cooperation and reform with autonomy from the executive; institute local empowerment through democratic local governance; and craft an agreed national program for both the short and medium terms. Finally, a joint CARICOM, OAS, and UN peacekeeping force should be seriously considered for the duration of this transition period.

The next year should be dedicated to putting these in train. There should then be a review to determine how much more time is needed. Therefore, the imminent Jagdeo-Corbin meeting or meetings should have a dual objective: return the country to normalcy by restoring the rule of law, and agreeing to mechanisms for the transition to power sharing. The meetings should strive for a ceasefire that includes a commitment to a) jointly rescue the state so that it can begin to perform the functions that all states perform such as provision of law and order, and promotion of equality and freedom; b) allow the nation to emerge from its racial prisons by removing artificial racial roadblocks; c) work for the reuniting of state and nation as a single entity; and d) restructure the relationship between state and government so that the state assumes its integrity and racial neutrality. This is a task that requires sober thought and action, national vision, and a commitment to shared existence. The following recommendations may help.

1. Restore the rule of law by disarming the armed groups. Eusi Kwayana, individually and with Hinds and Andaiye, has made some proposals that are worth close examination and consequent implementation. Ravi Dev and ROAR have also recently made some sound proposals. As Kwayana et al suggested before, some form of communication between the state and emissaries from the armed groups may be necessary and an amnesty for the turning in of arms should be agreed to and announced. There should be a simultaneous reconstruction of the armed forces in terms of leadership and orientation. This should include workshops in human rights, race relations, and national duty. The police and army must be disentangled from corruption, politics, and drugs.

2. Institute a national economic relief program geared at immediate poverty alleviation. This should be a government-opposition/private sector/NGO initiative in consultation with the communities. A committee representative of this group should be set up under the chairmanship of someone like Dr Clive Thomas to oversee this project.

3. Implement the outstanding constitutional reforms arrived at in the CRC. Two reforms are particularly crucial. First, operationalize the parliamentary sectoral committees as credible oversight of the executive branch with powers of investigation. The composition of the committees must not reflect government dominance. I still think the fairest formula is equal representation by the PNC and PPP with GAP/WPA and ROAR as chairs. Second, set up the recommended permanent constitutional reform committee with the expressed task of coming up with the necessary legislation to facilitate the transition of power sharing. This committee must immediately begin public consultations.

4. Pass immediate legislation to facilitate the empowerment of the local communities, in particular the return of village councils. Begin to plan for local government elections under the new system

5. A parliamentary ad hoc committee should be set up to craft a national development program. Perhaps the National Development Strategy paper should serve as the base document.

Posted July. 2002. - by David Hinds




Some forces, in particular the WPA – both as a party and through some of its members who have functioned in the academic sphere such as CY Thomas, Walter Rodney, and Eusi Kwayana - have correctly argued that development in Guyana would be non-existent, or at best stifled, without a political solution. During the first two half decades of independence when the country, unfortunately descended to authoritarianism, the main focus of that political solution was the return to electoral democracy and the unlocking of the police state.

While attention was given to the underlying problem of race, in hindsight, perhaps not enough vigorous emphasis was placed on the potential impact of this democratization on the historical racial competition and vice versa. Again, the WPA may have been the most perceptive in this regard, as its proposal in 1979 for a Government of National Unity, did in part attempt to address the issue of racial security. My contention here is that while due attention was paid to the mobilization of racial solidarity and unity as a means of confronting authoritarian rule, enough attention was not given to the racial consequences inherent in democratization in a multiracial country.

There were several assumptions as the prospect of electoral democracy materialized. First, it was assumed that the Indian and African working class had developed a high degree of solidarity that would carry over into the post-authoritarian period. Second, it was thought that the PNC that presided over the authoritarian state would be seriously diminished with the return of electoral democracy. Third, it was assumed that the anti dictatorial parties would transfer their institutional relationship into a broad-based government. Fourth, many thought that the WPA with its multi-racial or non-racial credentials would have been a serious electoral contender, thus becoming a balancer in the system. Finally, and perhaps the most damaging, it was assumed that the demise of authoritarianism would translate automatically to democratization.

That these assumptions turned out to be miscalculations has been painfully evident since 1992. The demise of authoritarianism can lead to any of the following three developments: democratization (both in form and substance); increased authoritarianism; and uncertainty in spite of formal democracy. From all appearances the experience in Guyana since 1992 places it squarely in the third category. The unleashing of the people’s energies leading to creativity and productivity that was expected with the dawning of a new era, have not materialized. Instead, a despair comparable to the dark days of authoritarian rule is abroad. While the democratic form of competitive elections has been maintained, these have not led to more substantive democratization such as 2 social equality, universal participation in governance, and political equality. In fact, while elections have been competitive, they have not been free from fear and corruption.

The underlying factor in this development has been race or more particularly, racial competition arising from racial insecurity. With the return of “free” elections, there has been a massive, almost absolute, return to racial solidarity, which in the context of the competition for state power degenerates into racial animosity. And with no authoritarian hand to suppress this animosity or serve as a lightning rod for racial solidarity, we have witnessed almost a decade of political uncertainty and instability, which have brought the country to a virtual standstill. As the two major contenders for power battle each other for the ultimate political prize, the entire country becomes consumed either as racial adversaries, helpless onlookers, or frustrated peacemakers.

While this political battle is almost five decades old, it has ironically gained maximum momentum with the demise of authoritarian rule. Ironic because authoritarian rule was in part, a result of this very political/racial battle that peaked in the 1960s. The PNC regime was a product of Cold War machinations, but it was also a product of African-Guyanese fear of Indian domination. This fear was translated into a desire for African domination. Fear of being dominated, therefore led to a perpetuation of domination.

The consequence of this battle for power has been two-fold – political and socio-economic. As mentioned before political instability has been the order of the day. The political institutions have been incapable of arresting the unrest that has been both a cause and effect of instability. None of the three branches of government individually or in concert with each other has been able to stem the tide. The prime reason for this lack of government ineffectiveness is that government itself is the problem. It is the struggle for control of the government that has been at the heart of the unrest. Further, a combination of the mode of governance, the means by which government is created, the nature of government in our post colonial experience and the historical racial competition and mistrust that constitute the political crisis in the country.

When a political party, which is not a guerrilla movement makes good on its pledge to make the country ungovernable, it is not only the patriotism of the party that must be questioned, but most importantly it is the political culture and the political system that must be seriously questioned. The Government has struggled to stamp its authority, a situation that has hampered its ability to push through its programs and to maintain law and order. Our continued failure to examine the problem in these broad terms has certainly been to our peril.

The workability of political systems is based in part on popular confidence. And by popular confidence I mean confidence by the broad cross section of the society, which in a multi-racial society such as Guyana, must mean multiracial confidence. No one with any honesty can bear witness that our government enjoys popular multi-racial confidence. There is, therefore, a serious political crisis in the country that paralyses the political institutions. In other words, the already shaky institutions have collapsed under the weight of the political competition for power. There is a crisis of both legitimacy and penetration.

On the economic front, nothing gets done. Economic development has stalled as investment and productivity--scarce commodities in the best of times--have dried up. In the process the poverty accumulated from centuries of economic exploitation has assumed epidemic proportions. This is manifested in the overflowing unemployment, squalid social conditions and their attendant social ills. Such a development has served as the perfect breeding ground for the narcotics trade that is fast compromising the health and integrity of the populace.

This combined economic and political crisis has engendered a prolonged period of uncertainty that has transformed the country into a time bomb that frequently goes off at the slightest irritation. And when a country tethers on the brink of anarchy and disintegration, the temptation to use coercive means under the guise of law and order is real. Resort to such means in a situation of racial animosity can have two consequences: Increased racial hostility and the institution of a police state, the latter being the first step to full blown dictatorship. The thin line between legitimate protest and criminal activity is just the kind of breeding ground for the use of state force. In the circumstances the threat of a return to authoritarianism is a real one.

The Case For Power Sharing

The deep crisis described above with its seemingly intractable nature requires a concerted effort to arrest the situation in the short run with the ultimate goal of turning it around in the long run. Because the problem is so far reaching, repair work must also be far reaching. It is difficult to point to any single root cause, for as the problem unfolds cause and effect become indistinguishable. But in our circumstances, our racial problem will have to be the culprit. The question is where to start this repair work? I believe the first step is to begin a search for a formula that simultaneously addresses the following ills: racial insecurity and competition, undemocratic rule, and the attendant political and economic instability. In this regard we feel power sharing, conceived not as an abstraction but as a natural outgrowth of our circumstances, is a safe place to start.

The History

Power Sharing as an alternative form of governance to the current Westminster model is not new to the Caribbean region, having first been proposed by Eusi Kwayana in 1961 as a solution to the emerging racial disharmony in Guyana, and by Sir Arthur Lewis in 1965 in his attempt to find a solution to similar ethnic problems in Africa. Later on both Dr Cheddi Jagan and Dr Walter Rodney advanced it as a solution to Guyana’s racial and economic problems. Arend Lijphart has since argued that it is a necessary solution to the inherent instability in plural societies—societies segmented along racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and other cultural lines.

Power Sharing has been practiced in varying forms or degrees in several countries with varied success. The clear cases are Belgium, The Netherlands, Malaysia, Switzerland, Cyprus, Lebanon and Austria. Recent additions to this list are South Africa, Northern Ireland and Fiji. Further, more than twenty other countries have practiced some form of Power-Sharing. All of these countries can be described as plural societies divided along racial, ethnic, or linguistic lines.

Third, in relation to Guyana there have been several Power-Sharing proposals over the last four decades.

The first of these was the Joint-Premiership proposal put forward in 1961 by Eusi Kwayana on behalf of the African Society For Racial Equality (ASRE).

This proposal, which was rejected by both major parties, essentially called for executive Power-Sharing between the PNC and the PPP as a means of preventing the impending racial explosion and helping in the search for national unity. It is important to note here that Kwayana is most remembered for his partition call. However, his proposal was "Joint-Premiership with Partition as a last resort."

The next Power-Sharing proposal came in 1963 when a mission headed by a Professor W E Abraham visited Guyana and proposed Executive power sharing with both parties, the PPP and the PNC, sharing important Ministries. Under pressure from the PNC-UF-TUC alliance, Dr. Jagan agreed, but Mr. Burnham, sensing his growing position of strength, wriggled out of it. According to Dr. Jagan (1970), this idea for power sharing was mooted earlier by a United Nations Committee (Committee of Seventeen), but Mr. Burnham similarly found a way out of it.

This writer has not come across any rejection of this version from the PNC. As an aside, it is interesting to note that while a locally sponsored proposal was rejected, a similar overseas-sponsored one was embraced. In 1976 the PPP proposed a "National Patriotic Front" which called for power sharing between itself and the PNC and other patriotic forces of 1976 and the WPA's "Government Of National Unity and Reconstruction" in 1979. Both proposals advocated Power-Sharing but differed on composition and ideological orientation. Whereas the PPP's NPF included the PNC and listed socialist orientation as a prerequisite, the WPA's GNUR excluded the PNC but did not have any ideological litmus test.

The PNC rejected the PPP's proposal while the WPA supported it in principle. On the other hand, the PPP balked at the WPA's GNUR on the grounds that it gave too much representation to the right wing. The PNC initiated talks with the PPP in 1985 towards a National Government including the two parties.

This initiative fell apart with the death of Mr. Burnham. Finally, in 1990 the WPA proposed an interim National Government to preside over the country as it prepared for its first free and fair post-independence elections. The PNC, though in power, expressed mild interest in the proposal, but the PPP poured cold water on it.

The Rationale

There has developed in each Caribbean country a “political tribalism” that is based on party affiliation whereby the masses are organized into competing political camps. As 5 Tim Hector (2000) observes, the evolution of the two-party system in the Caribbean is really reflective of the division of the working classes into two antagonistic factions; thus the emergence of pluralism based on political tribalism. Given the racial polarization of Guyana, this tribalism has taken on a racial outlook.

As we observed earlier, this political tribalism has had a negative effect on the country’s developmental process as it has served to stifle consensus, stability, and nationhood-- key components of economic progress and democratization. In this atmosphere of polarization, the very tenets of Westminster democracy, bequeathed to the region at independence, which were meant to be stabilizing influences, have instead served to deepen the polarization and stifle democratic evolution. In particular, the government-opposition and winner-take-all majoritarian principles have been utilized in the consolidation of a segmented or non-neutral state based on party paramountcy and exclusionary governance.

In effect, then, the Westminster model has failed to translate formal democracy into a more substantive democracy that embraces genuine political equality. Allied to political democratization is the question of economic democratization: who owns the production systems? After 35 years of independence the working people of this country do not have any stake in the ownership of productive enterprises. Capital accumulation, instead, is largely concentrated in the hands of foreign interests and a small local elite.

The case for power sharing in Guyana, then, is premised on the following factors:

(a) the need to create forms of governance aimed at arresting the growing political instability and threat of social disintegration;

(b) the encouragement by the Westminster model of an adversarial political culture and its concomitant failure to guarantee consensus and shared nationhood;

(c) the need to arrest the slide towards another wave of authoritarianism;

(d) allied to (c) is the need to transform the formal democracy that currently exists into a substantive democracy based on peoples power, political and racial equality, equality of opportunity both socially and racially, and shared nationhood; and

(e) the need to develop political arrangements consistent with the emerging economic owning patterns. This call for Power sharing springs from the very concrete situation in our country. As Kwayana (2001) points out in relation to his 1961 proposal, “It was a solution, so far as I was concerned, posed by the social and political logic of the situation then before us and not by me.”

Adversarial Politics

As a result of the political segmentation alluded to above, the faction that gains control of government and state, often with a slim majority, has generally governed in an authoritarian manner that has led to the relegation of the minority faction to the periphery of the political process. The fact that the minority faction is usually only marginally smaller than the majority faction has meant that almost half of the population is banished from governance. This situation has served to intensify the divisions in the society and has had a debilitating effect on political and economic development. Kwayana observed the genesis of this segmentation in 1961:

It was very clear to us in l961 that 'Indians will not accept an African ruler and Africans would not accept an Indian ruler…The split in the national movement, and the idea of 'one leader' meant that each of the two major parties, based in different races, began to develop its own 'pre-nation' institutions…All of us, came to regard Joint-Premiership, as a means of re-combining two separate pre nations back into one stream with the just aspirations of each satisfied, but only the just aspirations, as each side had other dreams too.

Governance in Guyana has, therefore, evolved into an exercise in political witch-hunting, party domination, marginalization of the losing faction, plunder of state resources as a means of personal enrichment and maintenance of state clientelism. And opposition has meant destabilization of the government. This brand of adversarial politics is inconsistent with Westminster culture, which puts national unity above partisan considerations. A key point here is that whereas in Westminster terms, opposition means "government in waiting," in the Caribbean’s “Adapted Westminster,” it is translated into marginalization of half of the populace, possibly permanently.

Tim Hector’s observations of adversarial politics in Antigua are symptomatic of the situation in Guyana:

The contention between the parties has produced since 1976 this heavy reliance on State patronage, which has distorted both politics and the economy…Adversarial politics is the competition between parties, not based on ideas of policy and program, but based on "I appoint and I disappoint", in opposition, but moreso in government…Adversarial politics has reached the absurdity where politicians in power use every means to deny their opponents work for years; the right to practice their profession, and even to destroy by terrorist arson their means of livelihood. There is no longer, in appearance or in substance, Parliamentary democracy here, but an idea-less struggle for naked power, to appoint and disappoint by State patronage.

Here in Guyana there has developed a culture where domination is seen as the best defense against bullying by the opposite race group and then becomes an end in itself. This is a critical aspect of the intra-group convergence of expectations. It is shared and promoted by the respective leaderships of the two parties, thus cementing a political culture that is resentful of co-operation, consensus, and notions of equivalence and of united governance.

Critique of the Westminster Model in Plural Societies

In this regard the Westminster model in its present form, while effective in maintaining formal democracy, has proved to be a barrier to deepening that democracy and realizing national consensus. A crucial deficiency in the Caribbean’s experience with the Westminster model has been its inability to develop a Westminster culture, which is vital to the viability of the Westminster model.

Hence elections in Guyana are a high intensive exercise as the stakes are high—which race or political-tribal faction will gain the majority that guarantees total power? According to Sir Arthur Lewis (1965), democracy has two meanings: "The primary meaning is that all who are affected by a decision should have the chance to participate in making that decision, either directly or through representatives.

Its secondary meaning is that the will of the majority will prevail." (p. 64) These two meanings, he contends, are mutually exclusive; it's either one or the other. The European countries chose the second meaning and imposed it on its colonies at independence. But Lewis insists that “to exclude the losing groups from participating in the decision-making clearly violates the primary meaning of democracy” (p.65) While the latter approach has worked relatively well in European societies, it has been far less effective in the plural societies of the ex-colonies.

This majoritarian principle in the Westminster culture assumes that the majority once in power will embrace and address those minority interests. Most European countries and the USA can claim success with this principle precisely because they are largely homogenous societies, which exhibit a considerable degree of consensus even when there is disagreement on specific approaches.

The political culture, therefore, feeds off this consensus, thus making politics and the competition for political office a relatively low intensive exercise. Lewis concurs with this view when he likens elections under the Westminster model to "competition between businessmen to serve the consumer," and the emphasis is on "the politicians rather than the groups they represent" (p.65) and, therefore, as in business, if you win, you win and take all, and if you lose, you lose everything. He however noted that in social institutions-- family, church, university, and sports--Europeans stress compromise and teamwork rather than majority vote.

The term plural societies refers to those societies that are segmented along racial, linguistic, ethnic and other cultural lines.

Arend Lijphart outlines four criteria for determining whether a society is plural

(1) Can the various segments into which the society is divided be clearly defined?

(2) Can the size of each segment be exactly determined?

(3) Do the segmental boundaries and the boundaries between the different political, social, and economic organizations coincide?

(4) Do the segmental parties receive the stable electoral support of their respective segments? If we accept this framework, and then it is clear that Guyana is one of the most plural societies, for it satisfies all four criteria. Even more, the segmental differences in Guyana have manifested themselves in violent confrontations from as early as the immediate post-emancipation era, culminating with the racial disorders of the 1960's.

But in plural societies, such as Guyana, because politicians represent distinct groups of people with differing communal and political-tribal interests, elections are translated into contests between these groups. Further, unlike the leaders in Europe and the USA, Guyanese leaders are less dispassionate about wining or losing elections since given the undeveloped nature of the society few prestigious options exist outside the political sphere. The situation is compounded by the fact that whereas in the "class-based societies” of Europe and North America group differences are based primarily on matters of ideology or socio-economic interests, in plural societies these differences result primarily from the fact that these groups are what Lewis calls "historical enemies” (p.66).

The consequence of this high intensive exercise was manifested in the last three elections in Guyana. While electoral malpractice was cited as the reason for the post election protests subsequent developments have shown that the underlying problem is the racial consequences of the winner-take-all system that threatens to institutionalize racial domination under the rubric of democracy. This has led to a crisis of governance that has compromised the governments’ legitimacy, and to racial and political upheaval.

Professor Clive Thomas labels this development a “democratic contradiction” and sounded an ominous warning:

Democracy confined to free and fair elections and ignoring ethnic security, and the needs and fears of the major race groups would not be sustainable…If racial voting were to be the outcome of a free and fair election next time around, then free and fair elections might well come to be seen as a pillar of domination rather than a democratic advance, thereby leading to its rejection, and increasing the prospects of social breakdown (p.26)

Beyond Westminster

It is against this background that the increasing calls for either a modification or abolishment of the Westminster model, in particular the elimination of the winner-take-all and government-opposition principles, and the institution of Power Sharing in the form of National Governments must be seen. It is part of the search for a way out of this crisis that is eating away at the very existence of our already fragile nation.

The case for Power-Sharing in Guyana assumes the following:

(1) that the various race groups, especially Africans and Indians, want to stay together as a nation; and

(2) that the guiding principles of the nation are peaceful co-existence, cooperation and mutual respect.

No group in a plural society voluntarily accepts the leadership of another group. The situation is compounded when that minority is a large one, as is the case in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Unless a formula can be found to include these groups in the decision making process, nationhood will always be an elusive dream. And if there is no collective sense of nationhood, there can be no political stability and economic development. Guyana is a compelling witness to that truth.

As Lewis points out, "the democratic problem in a plural society is to create political institutions which give all the various groups the opportunity to participate in decision-making, since only then can they feel that they are full members of a nation, respected by their numerous brethren and giving equal respect to the natural bond which holds them together." (p.66)

Selwyn Ryan (1993:149) advocates some form of power sharing in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana “where no one group wins everything or loses everything in the process” Clarence Ellis argues for power sharing as “the best mechanism for achieving inclusiveness in our racially divided and increasingly unstable society.” Kwayana urges that Power Sharing “offers domination to neither leader, neither people, nor race, only human equality, not even equality of numbers.” Tim Hector feels that power sharing would lead among other things to more government accountability.

Only a government of national unity can, in the present economic and historical context raise the productivity of labor, and therefore national wealth. A Government of National Unity ensures the return of accountability, therefore a widening of the tax base, automatically becomes possible. This guarantees that with the inclusion of the opposition, people can have justifiable faith that their tax dollars will be spent as determined by their elected representatives with full accountability for every tax dollar. This process, and this process alone, probity in government, will unlock the mysteries of the spirit of progress and development

Elements of Power Sharing

According to Arend Lijphart, a definition of Power-Sharing or Consociational democracy includes the following elements:

(1) Government by a "grand coalition " of political parties and leaders representing the significant segments of a plural society. Such a "grand coalition" can take the form of a grand coalition cabinet and/or a coalition of top office holders such as a Multi-Person presidency or Prime-Ministership.

(2) Mutual veto by the different segments.

(3) Proportional representation as the method of arriving at political representation, top civil service appointments and allocation of public funds for economic development.

(4) Autonomy for the different segments to run their internal affairs.

There are a few points to be noted here. First, Power Sharing is likely to be most effective if it is constitutionally mandated. In this regard Executive Power-Sharing is not a simple coalition or marriage of convenience. As is pointed out above, it is a "grand coalition" cabinet comprising the representative parties and Cabinet positions are divided in proportion to the percentage of votes acquired at election. What differentiates Power Sharing from the simple coalition is that the former is constitutionally mandated while the latter is not.

Second, any grand coalition must be premised on an agreed national direction that includes agreement on a broad national developmental program. Given the limited choices at the disposal of small countries like Guyana, this is not a very difficult task. Third, the leaders of the various segments must have a deep and abiding commitment to the unity of the nation and must be prepared to uphold the laws and the democratic process. Cooperation and compromise must be the guiding principles and must be predicated on a willingness of the leaders of one segment to work with the other segments.

But even as the leaders try to cooperate with each other, they must hold their respective constituencies together In this regard, the leaders must be more tolerant than their followers and must have the ability to strike compromises in the interest of the nation even when those compromises are not popular with their `followers'. These leaders must, according to Lijphart "perform a difficult balancing act." Leaders must therefore be bold, creative, and above all must have the trust of their followers. Lijphart also makes the point that while it important for leaders to carry the masses along, it is doubly important for them to get the support of the second level leadership of the parties. Another category that the leaders must consider when making decisions is the non-political groups such as religious associations and "ethnic" organizations.

Next to leadership, the size of the various segments is most crucial to Power-Sharing. In particular, the presence of a majority segment is seen as being unfavorable since the majority segment always has an eye on maintaining or reverting to Winner-Take-All. On the other hand, in cases where the two segments are of approximately equal size, the leaders tend to be more disposed to dialogue and negotiations. The fact that one side cannot easily overrun the other is enough reason for compromise.

Guyana does have a majority segment--Indians make up about 51% of the population with Africans making up about 44% according to the last census. The mixed races for the most part identify with themselves with the African Segment. Because the Indian segment is a bare majority that is not considerably larger than the African segment, there is somewhat of a balance. While the PPP has used the Indian majority to argue for Majoritarian Democracy, given the almost equal size of the African segment, it has found it difficult to govern in both of its stints in office. Further, the fact that the African segment dominates the military, and police apparatus and the civil service, it is able to wield considerable power outside the government.

Almost all the countries where Power-Sharing has been successful, the populations are relatively small. The advantage of small population size is that there is not an elaborate decision-making process and the leaders tend to know each other on a one on a one basis. Of course small populations have their disadvantages - there is limited economies of scale and the pool of talent is smaller. However, for the purpose of consensus a small population is advantageous. Guyana has a population of approximately three-quarters of a million. Its leaders know each other personally and the decision making process is quite straightforward.

The grand coalition formula has been used by western homogeneous societies during times of emergencies such as war. Most western countries experience a show of unity by the political parties. In instances such as during World War II, Britain actually formed a Grand Coalition Government or National Government. While the crisis in these societies tends to be temporary, thus needing temporary arrangements, the crisis in plural societies is permanent or as Lijphart says "it is the nature of the society that constitutes the crisis"

Since the “single dominant” leader characterizes the Presidential system of government, it is in principle incompatible with Consensus democracy. However, it could be used with some alteration. One variation is the "joint presidency" or multi-person presidency where the various segments are represented with each having a veto over the other. An example of this arrangement is the seven- member Swiss Federal Council that is representative of the electoral strength of the four major parties, the different Cantons, and the regions.

Another variation is the alternating presidency whereby the parties/segments rotate the presidency by either terms or the individual terms are split, which Lijphart calls diachronic "grand coalition." This arrangement works best in situations where there are two major segments such as in Guyana. Although Colombia is not a consensus democracy, it used this arrangement for the period 1958-74. In the Swiss Federal Council the presidency is rotated annually among the members. Yet another variation is the Lebanese Model of linking the presidency with the executive positions such as the Prime Minister, Vice President and Deputy Prime Minister in a kind of ruling coalition.

A key element of Consensus Democracy is Separation of Powers, especially between the executive and the legislative. Such clear separation ensures that each branch serves as a check on the other. It also allows the legislative branch to function as a kind of opposition to the executive branch and mediator among the segments. Where there are deadlocks in the cabinet, these matters could be referred to the legislature for resolution. For such a system to work best cabinet members cannot be members of the legislature.

Success and Failure

Some critics have argued that because consensus democracy has declined in countries such as Austria and Holland, it has failed. But in fact, this decline is a reflection of the success of the model in minimizing the divisions in those societies. By the same token the breakdown of Power-Sharing in Lebanon was not the result of its failure but the result of external pressure on the country. Power Sharing lasted for 32 years in Lebanon 1943 -1995, during which time the four main religious segments -Christian, Suny Moslem, Shiite Moslems and Greek Orthodox shared the governance of the country. Despite several instances of conflict, including a civil war in 1958, the system survived.

In the case of the South Africa the parties agreed beforehand that it was going to be an interim government. Clearly the presence of the grand coalition played a pivotal role in halting the violence and facilitating a smooth transition from apartheid.

Another successful case of Power-Sharing was in Malaysia 1955-1969. This arrangement broke down when the three main parties that formed the Grand Coalition lost a sizable portion of their popular support to other parties in the 1969 elections. One may argue that this was a good development except that these other parties were communal parties, which influenced the civil disorder.

One of the problems with Malaysia was that despite the Power-Sharing arrangement most of the national symbols were reflective of the Malay segment, which comprised 53% of the population. This, in addition to the electoral system - single member district - gave a disproportionate representation of the Malays in the Grand Coalition. These two factors no doubt eliminated the other segments and influenced the eventual breakdown of the system. Had the system been reviewed and adjusted to meet the changes in the society, the civil disorder may have been prevented.

The one real failure of Consensus Democracy was in Cyprus 1960. Despite having the perfect consensus constitution, the country erupted in civil war after only a few years. The major reason for this breakdown was the fact that there was a very large majority Greek segment (78%).

The Turks comprised a mere 18%. But the Turks were awarded the Vice-Presidency, three out of ten cabinet seats and five out of 50 parliamentary seats! The same ratio applied to the Civil Service while there was a 6:4 ratio for the police and army. In addition the Vice President had equal powers to the Greek President and an equal veto over the cabinet and legislature on matters of defense, security and Foreign Affairs. The Turks therefore were over represented and tended to stick to the letter of the constitution. The Greeks on the other hand had reluctantly accepted the constitution at the time of Independence and their attempt to alter the constitution to achieve stricter proportionality sparked the civil war that led to the breakdown of Power-Sharing. But apart from the internal dynamics, the situation was influenced by the fact that both Greece and Turkey intervened on the sides of their respective nationals.

Answering the Critics

Now, to some of the arguments that have been raised about the weaknesses or unworkability of Power Sharing.


Gridlock is inherent in any system of governance. While situations of crisis and emergency demand prompt decision-making, hastily executed decision-making is contrary to democratic governance as it downplays democratic tenets such as consultation, extensive deliberations, compromise and consensus. Even the Westminster Model which is the least gridlocked of the political systems has certain built-in delay mechanisms such as the House of Lords' suspensory veto whereby that body can hold up passage of a bill for up to six months. True, an all-party cabinet moves gridlock into the executive branch, but the same gridlock exists in single party executives where various factions of the party invariably battle over policy.

Gridlock has the potential of frustrating decision-making but the threat of gridlock also forces compromise, if not consensus. It expands the scope for broad discussion and deliberation that make for more broad-based decisions.

This is most crucial for seriously divided societies such as Guyana as such an exercise does two important things (a) it institutionalizes a culture of working together and

(b) it produces decisions that have the support of the various factions. Finally extreme gridlock occurs in any system from time to time over fundamental issues. This is good for democracy for decisions on fundamental issues must by democratic necessity invite inputs from as wide a cross section of society as possible. If cabinet fails to settle an issue, then the parliament must be empowered to settle it.

In the case of Guyana one must note that we have been gridlocked for almost six decades, in particular since 1997. The government has been unable to get much done as the opposition has used its street power and support within the state apparatus to frustrate decision-making.

The current confusion between government action and the work of the dialogue committees is a case in point. Had the PPP and the PNC been in the cabinet together, there would have been less confusion and time consumption.

Institutionalization of Racial Voting Patterns

Again the charge ignores the Guyanese reality. Racial voting patterns have been institutionalized for a long time now and can hardly be further institutionalized. Any corrective measure must start with that admission and must in the first instance move to create conditions to prevent this racial voting pattern from giving rise to racial violence, discrimination and domination. Whether power sharing will solve our racial problems and/or change racial voting is speculative, but what is certain is its ability to neutralize the consequences of racial voting by forcing the contending forces to work together for the common good. It would be more correct to say that power sharing will not immediately get rid of racial voting. But it does encourage the less hard core racial voters to vote for a third force, as such a vote would not be seen as a “wasted vote”, given the fact that the intensity of the competition for racial control of the government will be lowered considerably.

The creation of this third force will be crucial as it will serve as a balancer in the system; thus reducing the threat of extreme gridlock.

Abolishing of Opposition

This is perhaps the most glaring benefit of Power Sharing for Guyana. Government in Guyana has meant government by one race and opposition has meant opposition by the other race. This equation has served to create instability and erase the other races, especially the Amerindians, from the political mix. Opposition has really been an exercise in destabilization of the government; the opposition has functioned more as a parallel government than a government in waiting.

Under power sharing, the place for opposition is the legislative branch, which has to be translated into a real oversight of the executive branch. In this regard there has to be more separation of powers then currently obtains whereby a minimum of ministers sit in parliament. This would allow for a fresh set of eyes and minds to look at bills when they reach the parliament.

Dividing Office among Elites

What’s new? We operate under a representative form of democracy which given the size of the population, is much more manageable than direct democracy.

People elect their representatives who do not generally reflect their class interests given our history of elite domination of political parties. However, in Guyana’s case, these elites represent the racial desires of their followers to control governmental power. Elite control of power is a given in Guyana. But a “vertical power sharing” or devolution of power to the local governments can counterbalance this. In this regard, the return to village government is key to power sharing. This allows for both racial and class empowerment – racial because of the racial homogeneity of our villages and class because more working class people are likely to be elected to village councils.

Power Sharing is not anti- Westminster

Power Sharing is not anti-Westminster in principle. It really is a modification of Westminster as it seeks to tailor the model to the peculiarities of segmented societies. The casualties here are the majoritarian and winner-take-all principles--principles that presuppose a political culture that is not part of our heritage. But other aspects of Westminster such as parliamentary or legislative supremacy are retained. In fact our current system has strayed from the principle of legislative supremacy, where the parliament hires and fires the executive.

Our system is a Presidential-Parliamentary system based on executive supremacy along the lines of the French system. The President and cabinet are not answerable to Parliament in any institutionalized manner. What we have is “legislative pretense,” where the executive basically controls the process with little or no check by the legislature. A crucial example of this is the fact that there can be no legislative vote of confidence in the executive.

Some Concrete Proposals

The Power Sharing Government shall be based on the following principles:

Proportional Representation

Separation of Powers

Checks and Balances

Central Government

The Executive Branch The Executive branch shall comprise a two or three person Executive Presidency and a Cabinet.

The Presidency There shall be a three-person Executive Presidency including the representative of the parties with the three highest numbers of votes at the election.

The party with the highest number of votes shall hold the Presidency, and the one with the second highest shall hold the Prime Ministership and Vice Presidency and the one with the third highest will hold the Deputy Prime Ministership and Second Vice Presidency.

The latter must garner at least 10% of the vote to be included in the presidency. If no single third party gets that number of votes, but a coalition of parties does, then they shall choose some one to represent them. If the minor parties together do not meet the 10 percent threshold, there shall be a two-person presidency There shall be no special elections for these offices, each official shall have a veto, and belong to the cabinet.

Powers of the President

Commander in chief of the armed forces and Minister of Defense

Perform the ceremonial functions of the Head of State.

Represent the country at international functions.

Powers of the Prime Minister

Chairperson of the Cabinet

Leader of Government Business in the House (but with no voting powers)

Minister of Home Affairs and National Security

Powers of Deputy Prime Minister

Chair of the House of Civil Society

Vice-Chair of Cabinet

Minister of Economic Planning and Development

Joint Powers

1. Approve or veto bills passed by Parliament

2. Nominate magistrates and judges, Police Commissioner, Head of the armed forces and the top governmental officials.

3. Appoint and fire Cabinet Members

4. Report to the Parliament on the State of the Nation twice per year.

5. Decide on the size of the cabinet, but it shall not exceed 20 members.


Cabinet shall be a coalition of all parties that qualify for seats in the parliament and shall be proportionally allocated. No party shall hold more than three of the following ministries: Finance, Economic Planning Development, Home Affairs and National Security, Foreign Affairs, Education and Health.

Cabinet decisions shall be based on consensus, but should there be a vote, decisions must have the support of two-thirds of the cabinet. Should Cabinet be unable to make a decision, the matter shall be returned to parliament for resolution. Members of the Cabinet may sit in the National Assembly and introduce government bills, but they cannot vote.


There shall be a bicameral legislature including an elected People’s House of Representatives and an appointed Chamber of Civil Society. Election to the PHR shall be based on a mixed system of Proportional Representation and First Past the Post (FPTP) system.

The Peoples House of Representative shall comprise elected members, and non-voting members of the Cabinet and the Regional Councils.


Remove any member of the Executive Branch, including Cabinet Ministers, through a vote of no confidence, which must be initiated by at least one-third of the Lower House and passed by a three-quarters majority.

Override executive vetoes with a three-quarters vote.

Pass bills that relate to all areas of life in the country.

Settle any unresolved disagreements within the Executive Branch with a three-fifths vote.

Elect a speaker with a three-fifths vote.

Approve Executive nominations for the Judicial Branch and other top appointments.

Chamber of Civil Society

The Chamber of Civil Society shall comprise representatives of Civil Society Organizations including the TUC, Women’s organizations, Guyana Bar Association, Guyana Council of Churches, The Private Sector Commission, and Youth Organization.

Review and endorse bills passed by the People’s House of Representatives.

Hold a bill for up to three months pending review by the House of Representatives.

Local Government

The primary local government unit shall be the Village and Town Councils whose elections shall be based on a mixed electoral system.


The Power to tax.

Dual control with the Central Government over Education, Sanitation, and Public Works including drainage and irrigation and road repairs.

Regional Councils Comprising representatives of Village and Town Councils. Representatives shall sit as non-voting members of the House of Representatives.


Oversight of Village Councils.

Approve budget of Councils.

Link between the Village and Town Councils and the Central Government.


Posted May 17th. 2002. - by David Hinds

Rodney did have a view on Power Sharing

I would like to commend Mr. Emile Mervin for drawing to our attention those insightful thoughts from Dr. Walter Rodney (Stabroek News May 16). Oh, if only Guyanese can be persuaded to act on the wisdom of those words. The WPA in a statement to mark the 21st anniversary of Walter's murder observed that while his words are today more relevant than ever to Guyana, they are sadly being ignored. The PPP loves to talk about Rodney, but never about his ideas, because they know his ideas are contrary to their practice of politics. The PNC cannot talk about his ideas because that party is yet to make peace with its past, which includes Rodney's blood. Guyana does not know Rodney, except as a footnote to our history, because those who have the capacity to take Rodney an active tool in our national struggle for emancipation-- the government, the media, the university - for differing reasons refuse to do so. And those of us who call ourselves Rodneyites have been relegated to the periphery of the process by a political culture that tends to favor racial warlords and gun toting freedom fighters.

This leads me to the real purpose of my letter. Mr. Mervin got it wrong. Dr. Rodney did articulate strong views on power sharing. He was one of the chief architects of the WPA's 1979 power sharing proposal called "Proposals for a Government of National Unity and Reconstruction." How could Mr. Mervin think that Rodney, the crusader for racial unity, would have missed power sharing? Let me reiterate that the WPA from its inception in 1974 has been a forceful advocate for power sharing; a concept that was first introduced into Guyanese political conversation in 1961 by another underused thinker and political activist, Eusi Kwayana. Now let Walter Rodney speak for himself on power sharing in this excerpt from a speech at a public meeting in Georgetown in 1979.

"The WPA has called for a government of National Reconstruction and National Unity. Inevitably, the working people must play a leading role in such a government. Yet, it is proof of the maturity of our workers that they fully understand the need for patriotic compromise with other classes and social strata. Workers know from the most bitter of experiences how hopeless the economic situation has become. Small farmers know from heart-breaking experience that it is impossible to cultivate and survive. So the vast majority of our people will surely rally around a program, which restores the economy through the participation of all. They will rally round a program, which restores democratic rights.

One can sum up on the national question by saying that all classes in Guyana have an objective interest in unity. That is to say, each class has suffered materially from economic chaos; each class has suffered in one way or another from arbitrary rule, insecurity and lack of the opportunity to do an honest job. Collectively, we are faced with the threat of disintegration and the loss of commitment to Guyana as a nation state. This is tragically seen through the large numbers lining up at the embassies and passport offices and in the large numbers who have but one ambition in life - to leave Guyana.

This is a time for calling on our resolves of patriotism. The road to recovery of national purpose lies through the restoration of democracy. All parties and all interest groups must somehow be represented in a Government of National Reconstruction and National Unity.

Burnham Must Go! Yes, but that is only one side of the coin. There must be an alternative to replace the dictator. Let that alternative be a Government of National Unity. A clear alternative is a powerful political force. It gives our people something to mobilize around. It gives the outside world something to think about as the force of the future in dealing with Guyana. In the last days of the Burnham dictatorship, a Government of National Unity must be declared. It will unite races and classes; it will attract civilians and uniformed personnel; it will itself contribute to speeding up the end of the reign of King Kong. People's Power! No Dictator! All Power To The People!"

The sadness about Guyana is that those words spoken in 1979 at the height of the dictatorship are more relevant today 10 years after the exit of the dictatorship. We now understand why Rodney is banished by the status quo.

David Hinds lectures in Caribbean and Africana Studies at Arizona State University in the USA. He is also a political and social commentator who has written extensively on Guyana and Caribbean politics. More of his writings can be found on his website.