The Kenrick Hunte Column



Guyanese have spoken clearly in the 2011 elections

Posted May 3rd. 2012 - by C. Kenrick Hunte

Dear Editor,

Coming first in a three competitors' race with 51 percent or more of the total votes cast in the 2011 elections implied that a particular political party had won everything political. Such a party which formed the Government would reign supreme, as winning with a minimum of 51 percent of all the votes cast meant that the party garnered all the political and legislative power and held everyone else hostage who voted against it. This result also implied that the remaining 49 percent or less could be ignored, as they had no recourse, although litigation through the Courts may have been a possibility in some instances. However, Court action has been a "slow burn" that could be timed out by other Constitutional events. The election petition case of 1997 is an example of this outcome, where the decisions by the Court were only useful for legal and scholarly research, with no impact for the society.

Such has been the banality of the Guyanese system and the offensiveness of the 1980 Constitution that continues to ignore the rights of minorities and does not account for ethnic cleavages that drives the political process. Of course, some would argue that the Ethnic Relations Commission is the cure for such ills, but this institution is at best a talk-shop and a toothless poodle, for its remit is to be reactive instead of being proactive. It is at best a political gimmick of the worse kind.

So what can you do with a simple majority under the 1980 Constitution? With a simple majority of 51 percent under the 1980 Constitution, the government formed by a single party has the same absolute power as a party that wins with 100 percent of the vote. The important outcomes under such a system are no checks or balances, or no penalties, unless the governing party loses the next election; but that is usually way off in the future. The local government election that is languishing in bureaucratic red tape is one such experience.

Here are some of the things the 51 percent governing party can do without restraint. They could appoint without consultation whomsoever they wish, be they qualified or not. They could make persons qualified for Constitutional Offices permanent members of an acting class, reducing them to a comatose state because the 49 percent cannot influence the governing party to change the status of these public servants whose professionalism the country needs. They could pass legislation, without the input of the opposition; for example, the passage of the National Budget or the use and disposal of the country's financial resources (NICIL, infrastructure for the Kingston Hotel, the road project at Amalia Falls) and natural resource misuse (see letters by Dr. J. Bulkan on Forestry in SN) are special cases of opaque action. They could pass laws, making them retroactive to cover events that in normal circumstances would be a violation of the law (see matter with former President Jagdeo and Dr. Yesu Persaud); or they could ignore or delay action in labor disputes (see bauxite examples) or environmental damage (the dust in Linden). They could ignore the findings and recommendations of the Auditor General in relation to ending fraud, corruption and the misuse of public money that must be booked in the consolidated fund (Lotto, GT&T) and not held elsewhere. These events attract no penalties and they continue to fester year after year.

Press freedom could be circumscribed by whatever means necessary; for example, privately owned press establishments could be starved of advertising funds (See SN Editorial 4/30/2012) or the owners and workers can be taken to Court for libel (Kaieteur News), with the sole purpose being to drive them into bankruptcy and out of business. Many times a simple retraction based on the facts supplied and printed in the press could work, but clogging the Courts should not be a first response by the aggrieved.

There are of course other despicable examples, but I need not bore you with them for Guyanese have spoken clearly in the 2011 elections, as they gifted us the first genuine crack in the 1980 Constitution. For the first time in our history, the opposition in Parliament controls the lawmaking center of politics, with the executive taking direction from the legislative in the passage of laws. By separating these two entities into different Constitutional Camps, the Guyanese people have ensured compromise and inclusion, confirming that they did not want one party to run away with the entire national game, as has been the custom for several decades. Instead, Guyanese voted in the last elections for a division of labor, where one political party, the PPP/C, which came first but did not win (less than 50 percent of the votes), will hold the executive office of the land, while the collective opposition will hold legislative authority in Parliament. The benefit of this new dispensation is that if you are the opposition, it allows decisions to be made by the opposition with no less than 51 percent of the total votes; or with combinations larger than 51 percent of the total votes whenever the executive joins for collective responsibility. Put differently, Guyanese have said they do not trust any single party to pass/veto anything in Parliament as no one party acting on its own has the minimum percentage (51 percent) to do anything unilaterally. This is unique as it emphasizes divided authority between the executive and opposition, but at the same time, it enhances collective responsibility to better the welfare for all.

When compared with the last Parliament, voters have reduced the weight of the PPP/C in Parliament by 6 percent (55 % down to 49 %, Table 1 below). Consequently, the argument by the PPP/C that the opposition overplays its one-seat majority is misleading, for it is the relative weights not the absolute number of seats held by the parties in Parliament that matter. It is not a one-seat majority but a two percent margin that has reigned in the excesses, making the PPP/C dependent on the opposition to pass anything into law. Thus, the PPP/C could work with the AFC and get to a combined percentage of 60 percent to pass/veto legislation; or join with the APNU to get to 89 percent of the vote to pass/veto anything. Alternatively, with all three agreeing, we have the rare unanimity outcome of 100 percent, typically seen in some foreign affairs matters that are externally focused, but not domestically charged as in the case of Budget approval; or reducing VAT, or allowing the private sector to own and operate TV and Radio stations in Linden or elsewhere in Guyana.

The results of the last elections show that the Guyanese people rewarded a new group, the APNU, which included the PNC with 6 percent more of the total vote; the PNC had 34 percent of the vote in the previous elections; the APNU has 40 percent). The

Guyanese people also rewarded the AFC with 3 percent more of the total vote (up from 8 percent to 11 percent), and they decimated the TUF and GAP/ROAR putting them out to pasture.

This is definitely a new dispensation in Guyana, for the people have spoken and they will reward or withdraw their support from any party that does not understand where the people of Guyana want to go. Guyanese are tired of their underdevelopment; they are tired of the low standards to which we have fallen. They want a brighter future; they want meaningful progress that builds an inclusive, sustainable and justice society. May the progress the people made in the 2011election gather momentum and never cease.