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The recently released USAID report on Democracy and Human Rights in Guyana has raised the question of the viability of the Winner-Takes-All system of governance to the needs of Guyana. It has recommended a Power Sharing form of government whereby the two major parties share executive power. This is a significant development not because of the recommendation, but because of who has made it and when it is being made. According to the report:
“Political power is highly concentrated in the executive branch of the government through the Office of the President and the appointed Prime Minister. The Executive Presidency model was adopted in 1980 and the President exercises executive authority and control of the government through the cabinet of ministers. The constitution mandates a high degree of cabinet involvement in executive decision-making while the National Assembly serves as a check on the executive branch. This type of Westminster system does not encourage participatory processes and reaching consensus with the opposition and other key pressure groups on public policy priorities. Consequentially, the executive branch of government is both protected and isolated from outside influence because there is no real system of outside accountability.”
Power Sharing as a concept is not new to Guyana. It was first raised in 1961 by Sydney King (now Eusi Kwayana) who recommended Joint Premiership between the two major ethno-political leaders. The rationale for the Kwayana proposal was that neither major group wanted to be governed by the other. As he put it “ We have known all along that the Indians would not trust a black leader and that the Africans would not trust an Indian leader. We could see then that any attempt of the one to rule the other will lead to blood baths.”
Since 1961, the conversation on Power sharing has evolved with several groups and parties offering proposals for consideration– PPP (1977), WPA (1979) and PNC (2002). However, the tendency has been to advocate for it when in opposition only to abandon it when in office. Both the PPP and PNC have been guilty of this. While elements within the PNC have continued to pay lip service to it, the PPP seems to have closed the door. A feeble attempt to initiate talks in this regard by the APNU+AFC government was roundly rejected by the PPP which objected to the then Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo as the Coalition’s point man. The Coalition promptly dropped the idea.
Trinidadian Political Scientist, Selwyn Ryan, identifies inherent challenges to getting the parties to agree to power sharing
“Attempts to broker political peace in Guyana must take heed of the fact that Guyana is a deeply traumatised society in which the two major ethnic groups each have their chosen rituals, traumas and hurts (real, invented and imagined) which mark and sustain their identity as a group. These feelings of shared belongingness and of being besieged, which were nurtured over many years of silent and open conflict in and around the plantations and villages, are reactivated during periods prior to and following elections, when strikes or marches in the streets take place, or during ethnic festivals. Any attempt to build political bridges by the implantation of super-structural devices such as dialogue or power sharing must recognise the historical, social and psychological contexts in which these attitudes were developed. To be effective, social reconstruction must accompany efforts at political reconstruction, if not precede them. Power sharing cannot work in a vacuum.”
Will this new call by the USAID bear any fruit? One must remember that President Jimmy Carter sought unsuccessfully to get the two parties to agree to a power-sharing government. He left Guyana in disappointment as the PPP stoutly rebuffed his initiative. Will the present USA administration convince the parties that it is time to make the leap? New PNC leader, Aubrey Norton is known as a strong supporter of the idea. In fact, he was one of the leaders and authors of the PNC policy paper in this regard in 2002. While he has not spoken on the issue since assuming office, it is known that he is a supporter of the APNU partnership which is seen in some quarters as a half-way stage to Power Sharing.
On the PPP’s side, there is no indication that that party is ready to share power in a joint government. Since taking power in 1992 it has argued for “inclusive Governance” which in effect means sharing office on the PPP’s terms Such an approach really means the party is against any joint government with its opponent. Will the changed demographics which do not guarantee power to that party force a shift in position? Time will tell.