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|The raging battle for power among the nation’s main political elites, APNU and the PPP, has resulted in dissension among political groups and in the Guyanese society even as the political analysts mull a foolproof system to quell the anxieties and concerns of the electorate at large.
Consequently, the discussion has shifted, and the concept of consociational democracy seems to have gathered momentum and presumably, is the way to go to confront an emerging apartheid state, the description given to our dear land by many political analysts.
Arend Lijphart is a Dutch-American political scientist specializing in comparative politics, elections and voting systems, democratic institutions, and ethnicity and politics. He is a Research Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego.
This esteemed gentleman posits that “Consociationalism is designed to create a government by an elite cartel, designed to convert a democracy with a fragmented political culture, into a stable democracy.”
Undoubtedly, dissension has always raised its ugly head among the electorate where the legitimacy of the ruling elites is rejected by a substantial proportion of the populace and has resulted in a situation where our extant model of governance hinders the promotion of political stability.
Conversely, consociationalism is geared to promote this very political stability through harmonious socio-economic and cultural cleavages. Under such conditions, rational and effective decision-making efforts by competent and representative elites are possible, leaving ideological and racial politics behind as vestiges from a more conflict-ridden stage of development.
Consociationalism is believed to be the best solution for deeply polarized and divided states. Naturally, if it is to be an effective counter model to the majoritarian model with its polarizing features, it requires committed collaboration of elites representing various factions.
The Good Friday Agreement (1998) constituted in Northern Island, engendered peace through consociationalism, and is an excellent module for analysis. This module of governance reverses and impedes the division and polarization which had existed in the country prior to the agreement. In other European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, and Netherland, various forms of consociationalism have been employed and proven to be just as effective.
Personally, I believe that consociationalism is geared to address the fundamental flaws and distinct costs of our constitutional practice thus strengthening the aforementioned view.
Political stability is a necessary condition to achieve a stable democracy. The mere concept of consociationalism will ensure that in a democratic state, each citizen will enjoy adequate representation through an elected representative. Democracy will then mean more than just a “one man, one vote” concept. Moreover, democratic states bear noteworthy traits like political tolerance, equality, citizens’ participation, adherence to the rule of law, accountability, transparency, and economic freedom among others.
Since gaining independence, the results of Guyana’s national elections, have been rejected by whichever party ends up on the losing end. This triggers dissension and the ‘winners’ find it very challenging to effectively govern a state where a substantial proportion of the population rejects the government. Consequently, the government of the day then faces unique challenges, and this particular government has employed unorthodox strategies to address those very challenges.
The concomitant result is accusations of impartiality from a wide cross-section of the populace as many complain of being deprived of the benefits of the nation’s patrimony. Furthermore, any government that shows scant regard for democratic norms will find it necessary to employ undemocratic and autocratic practices to stay afloat. In Guyana’s case, the current regime has effectively used this tool, coupled with race mongering, in deliberate attempts to malign and emasculate its detractors.
Ever since retaining power in August 2022, the PPP administration has operated as an ethnocentric/authoritarian regime where power at all levels is shrewdly distributed into the hands of ethnocrats, party loyalists, and sycophants. No discernable efforts are being made to professionalize the civil service, public corporations, and disciplined services. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is paramount and only loyalists are appointed to the lucrative positions. This obnoxious, and might I say, unpatriotic behavior is undesirable and certainly will not fit into a consociation package.
The contention that politicians can take their concerns to Parliament for redress becomes laughable when one examines our model of parliamentary democracy. Rather than solving the problem, parliamentary structures are designed to enable the growth and sustenance of such vulgarity. Most specifically, the Westminster model of government allows the ruling elites in Guyana to wantonly abuse political power at all levels, to the extent where I have argued that our country is an emerging apartheid state and have identified several areas below to substantiate my view of discriminatory employment and governance practices and policies.
Ø Inequitable allocation of resources.
Ø Stifling of political opponents’ views.
Ø Fortification of the incumbent’s position by exploiting loopholes and weaknesses in the political and governance systems.
Ø Implementation of partial immigration policy.
Ø Nepotism and rampant corruption.
Ø Criticism of government may be considered a subversive activity and can result in persecution.
Ø The implementation of laws and the promotion of policies that are designed to keep ethnic/racial groups in dissension.
In Guyana, the emerging apartheid state is driven by the desire of the central government to have full control of the state apparatus and resources mainly for the benefit of the ruling elites and their constituents. Further, ethnic insecurity, greed, the extant model of governance, and to some extent religious beliefs, have facilitated an emerging apartheid state.
Plural societies such as Guyana are difficult to manage, therefore, it behooves the political elites to embrace a model of government that is more inclusive than the Whitehall Parliamentary Democracy model which includes an executive branch made up of members of the legislature, and that is responsible to the legislature and its winner takes all dominant feature.
The pundits have argued that consociational democracy is the panacea for Guyana’s unstable political environment. They have said that the model is best suited to manage inter-racial conflicts within the framework of democratic institutions given a deeply divided society that is unfavorable for a stable democratic government.
Our political elites are fully aware that Guyana is starkly divided and polarized along racial lines and no amount of ethnic tokenism and window dressing can fix this problem. I remain resolute that the solution lies in meaningful constitutional and electoral reforms that will inevitably preclude any single party or major group from exercising total political power over the state and its apparatus.
The bald reality stares us starkly in the face; our politicians must embrace consociationalism if they are genuinely serious about improving the economic and social fortunes of all Guyanese.