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Two week ago, I argued that for decades Guyana has been on the watchlist of problematical democratic countries, and given its geographical location, for better or for worse, the United States of America has persistently intervened in its affairs. The contested nature of the role the recent Republican administration of Donald Trump played in Guyana’s 2020 general elections and the recent urgings of the present Guyana government to ensure the equitable distribution of Guyana’s resources by operatives of the new Democratic administration are cases in point. The Joe Biden administration has made the bolstering and expansion of the liberal democratic world an important objective of its foreign policy, and I posit here that the political dynamics in Guyana have sufficiently changed to allow it to become and fully-fledged member of that democratic family. As not too long ago in Northern Ireland, this process will progress more speedily if aided by its democratic friends.
I believe that one issue upon which all those who are acquainted with Guyanese history can agree is that politics has been the major stumbling block to its growth and development. This has to do with how the society has been ethnically structured and how Guyanese have been taught to do politics. A cursory glance at our neighbour Suriname would indicate that although there are levels of ethnic antipathy between the races, its politics is not as dysfunctional because the society has historically been ethnically and politically structured differently. While Guyana has been essentially a bicommunal society culturalised in Westminster-type winner takes all politics, Suriname is archetypically a multiethnic society socialised in European consensual-type politics.
Largely because of migration, Guyana has been shifting from being a society in which one ethnic group had the numerical strength to dominate its Westminster-type political context to becoming more of a multi-ethnic society with consensual democratic potentials. However, political leaders nurtured in and incapable of breaking out of the culture of Westminster-type political dominance have now added to their shortsightedness by attempting to turn back the tide of history by various forms of electoral manipulations to achieve what is naturally being eroded.
As a result, the present national management environment is even more political: everything is focused upon winning and keeping political power. The manner in which the current regime is using existing resources, which gave the US senators cause to intervene, is an example of a minority ethnic party trying to dominate the political space by firstly using state resources to consolidate its ethnic base and secondly to win over those ethnic groups that appear winnable. By all manner of ridiculous contrivances, other groups, matters not how large, are ignored. These traditional political rulers should not be allowed to prevent Guyanese from liberating themselves from the ethnic political dogma in which they are entombed.
National liberation is the responsibility of the ‘people’ of country, but this is made difficult in countries such as Guyana where there is no ‘people’ because there is not a ‘united public opinion’ upon which such a conceptualization rests. The present US administration supports the growth and development of the liberal democratic world and as such it must be willing to aid Guyana in establishing a consensual democratic system.
Perhaps the most important step in that direction is fundamental constitutional and electoral reforms which, among many other things, should maximise and liberalise constituency representation. Research indicates that only about 25% of the present 65 parliamentary seats are required as top up seats to maintain proportionality. Stricter campaign financing legislation should be established and enforced. Given the propensity of the oligarchic party leaderships to manipulate their membership, laws that govern interparty behaviour are required. A brand new electoral list based upon residence and biometrics is a sine qua non and foreign countries should be required to discourage citizens from facilitating multiple voting in Guyana. The Guyana Elections Commission should be reformed and if it does not already have it, be given the capacity to deal with all elections problems before declaring a winner. More in keeping with presidential systems, elections petition laws should ensure that petitions are completed within a specific time frame.
But most of all, those who require positive change must mobilise internal and external forces to ensure that that the outcomes of this process are consensual: that they have the concurrence of substantially all Guyanese. Such reforms that fundamentally change the way Guyanese are governed and determine who governs cannot be legitimately decided upon by a simple majority. Those who crafted the constitution of the United States of America were well aware of this.