Democracy, Power Sharing and Peaceful Development

Posted November 2nd. 2003 - by Kampta Karran

The ideas of democracy and power sharing are persistent in Guyana. The history of power sharing in Guyana is linked to Eusi Kwayana [Joint Premiership]; Dr Cheddi Jagan and the PPP [National Patriotic Front Government]; Dr Walter Rodney and WPA [Government of National Unity] Ravi Dev and ROAR [Federalism]. Evidence has come to light that is suggesting that the late Forbes Burnham was considering sharing Government with the PPP. His untimely death placed the idea on hold. In Guyana therefore, power sharing is not a post 1992 phenomenon.

Recent adherents have also added their voice. These include Moses Nagamootoo [PPP/C], Dr David Hinds [WPA], Dr Baytoram Ramharack [ROAR] and the late Desmond Hoyte [PNC/R]. Almost all the Guyanese thinkers I know in the UK, USA and Canada are also advocates.

What about the idea that in a democracy the winner does not share power? First of all it may be useful to note that there is nothing magical about democracy. It is ever changing and people change with it. There was a time in Guyana when many saw one party state [e.g. in the USSR] which was charcaterised by the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of democracy that was more advanced than bourgeois democracy as represented by the British Westminster system.

Again in Guyana there were people who supported the system of coalition and the alternating of leadership at regular intervals as was done in Yugoslavia as a form of democracy that was more advanced than bourgeois democracy in which the winner takes all.

On a few occasions the late Dr Cheddi Jagan talked about the Mandela formula. In this scheme of governance the winner does not take all but shares cabinet and other positions of power with members of the opposition. Given the history of Apartheid, members of the present day South African government were once locked in mortal combat. Sworn enemies are now working together for the common good of their country.

Today both the leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States of America are working with the main factions in Northern Ireland to arrive at an inclusive democracy that will involve some form of power sharing. This is a case in which two countries whose leaders are elected by a majority are supporting the establishment of a form of democracy that is based on sharing and not on the principle of winner takes all. Even the Hon. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain (the country seen as the architect of the Westminster system) is advocating power sharing as the most appropriate form of governance for the deeply divided Northern Ireland. Perhaps there is a lesson for Guyana here.

I am not a member of the PNC/R and I never was a member of the PNC. I am against violence and I have respect for the view of a democracy based on one-person one vote and the party with the numerical majority has the right to rule. In this regard I will say the PPP/C is legitimate. On the other hand, I also believe that a system of electing a government that seems to perpetually exclude more that 40% of the population needs improvement. Remember democracy is not static. It is a work in progress that is in constant need of modification to meet the new demands of the society or even part of that society. In Britain the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales is a recent example of a major change in the traditional Westminster system.

Power sharing in Guyana is one way to greater inclusion and greater political participation. But would it work? A response to this question could be fashioned from our recent history. The PPP/C government had no major when it included Mr. Manzor Nadir [TUF] and Dr Leslie Ramsammy [URP] as ministers of Government. Ideologically they both embrace liberal capitalism and they both campaigned against the PPP for high office. Similarly, there was no major upheaval when Mr. Lumumba [PNC &GGP] joined the government at a very senior level. Members of the parliamentary parties work exceedingly well in their parliamentary committees. The PNC/R has offered their support to power sharing. Apart from sharing government with leaders from the smaller political parties, the PPP has their National Patriotic Front Government formula to provide philosophical and organisational guidance. As Government the PPP/C would also have the support of all the parliamentary parties should they decide to follow the National Patriotic Front formula the party advanced when in opposition.

Should the voting pattern and the party structures remain as they are today, I will be saying this very same thing when the PNC/R wins the election in 2011 or 2016 or sometime in the future. A projection of Guyana’s demographic data reveals that in 10 to 15 years the African adult population would exceed that of the Indian. The social fact is no single political party or no single ethnic group would be allowed to govern successfully. Progress and development is a collective responsibility. People and their political organisations in fragmented societies only fulfill their responsibilities if they have a stake in power. If they do not have a stake in power and may never get power then there is a tendency for people to engage in behaviour that would disrupt order. Based on these propositions and given the realities of Guyanese political behaviour, it could be argued that neither a PPP/C nor a PNC/R government would succeed.

Guyana has recently gone through a very violent period. It is the duty of every citizen to be responsible as we engage in the search for a system of governance that best suit our situation. A trend analysis will show that the violence that followed each successive election since 1992 has been more intense. The 2006 elections are just around the corner. We have to begin to put in place mechanisms to avoid the escalation of violence. The work of Sir Reeves and his Commonwealth team is very timely. Our leaders and our people must continue to play our part in the search for a peaceful resolution of our political conflict.

The whole idea of democratic government is premised on the search for a system that most effectively represents the interest of all the citizens. As shown above, there is nothing wrong with changing your views on the most appropriate form of democracy suitable for Guyana. Democracy and power sharing need not be in competition. They are not mutually exclusive ideas. In deeply divided countries power sharing is one form of democracy that should be given serious consideration by all concerned. The PPP/C statements on building trust and making use of the existing mechanisms are useful starting points. Interestingly, three of Guyana’s most elderly statesmen and former presidents [Messrs. Burnham, Jagan, and Hoyte] died just before they were able to assist in the implementation of a power sharing government. Perhaps, our young and energetic President, His Excellency Bharat Jagdeo, could leave one lasting legacy behind. I appeal to him to encourage the deepening of a national discourse on power sharing in all its guises and forms with a view to incrementally include recommendations stemming from this discourse in government structures, policies and actions.

Given the PPP/C’s experience of inclusion, the other prevailing conditions in Guyana and the international tendency to encouraging some form of power sharing as in South Africa, Fiji and Sri Lanka, surely, Mr. President this minimalist approach is politically feasible. Should the PPP/C institutionalise this form of government now, it will be included in corridors of power when the PNC/R wins the election based on its numerical majority. Political parties in the Cabinet, running ministries, located in the municipalities and local government structures, sitting on boards and other decision-making bodies are better able to represent their constituencies. Given the ethnic-voting pattern in Guyana, no ethnic group would feel that their vote is wasted and minorities will not feel perpetually dis-empowered. In this new power sharing democracy ethnic security based on issues of control of group destiny and identity, political participation and representation and group safety will be satisfied. Ethnic antagonism will be minimised. The unease and distress that accompany our national elections every five years will diminish drastically. In peace we could begin the important tasks of growth, development, progress and good neighbourliness.