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Just over a year ago, I considered similar numbers to the ones below in an article titled ‘Is Guyana a democracy?’ Since then, the regime’s position on the V-Democracy Index, which contains 5 high level indices that correspond to each of the five high level principles of democracy, has dropped even lower.
V-Dem classifies the world’s regimes as liberal democracies (LD), electoral democracies (ED), electoral autocracies (EA) and closed autocracies (CA) in that order. + & – indicates that countries could be in the upper or lower scale in the given category. In 2020, at position 84, Guyana was already classified an ED- a regime with little of the requisite political virtues indicated in the ‘components’ outlined below. By 2021, its position had deteriorated to 90, which means that it was getting closer to being a fully-fledged electoral autocracy i.e. a regime whose rulers are unaccountable to citizens. What the following table also suggests is that in discourses about the quality of democracy, Guyana cannot be seriously compared to any of its Caricom partners!
Switzerland is placed in the table because of my belief that its form of democratic inclusive/shared governance is best suited to the ethnic context of Guyana, but I am tempted to say that it may well be the best governance fit in a world that is becoming more and more diverse. Switzerland stands at 7th but even more importantly it is among the best when the important virtuous components of democracy are averaged.
2021 COUNTRY SCORES FOR THE LIBERAL DEMOCRACY INDEX (LDI)
& ALL COMPONENTS INDICES
The Liberal Democracy Index (LDI) captures both liberal and electoral aspects of democracy. It thus reflects a relatively ambitious idea of electoral democracy where a number of institutional features guarantee free and fair elections, freedom of association, freedom of expression, etc. and captures the limits placed on governments in terms of the protection of individual liberties and the checks and balances between institutions. The Electoral Democracy Index (EDI) captures not only the extent to which regimes hold clean, free and fair elections, but also their actual freedom of expression, alternative sources of information and association, as well as male and female suffrage and the degree to which government policy is vested in elected political officials.
The Liberal Component Index (LCI) embodies the importance of protecting individual and minority rights against both the tyranny of the state and the tyranny of the majority. It also captures the effective checks and balances between institutions and in particular limits on the exercise of executive power. This requires strong rule of law, constitutionally protected civil liberties and an independent judiciary and strong parliament that are able to hold the executive to account and limit its powers. The Egalitarian Component Index (ECI) measures to what extent all social groups enjoy equal capabilities to participate in the political arena. The egalitarian principle is fundamentally related to political participation, as systematic inequalities in the rights and resources of citizens of specific social groups limit capabilities to participate in the political and governing processes. Therefore, a more equal distribution of resources across groups results in political equality and hence democracy. The Participatory Component Index (PCI) emphasizes active participation by citizens in all political processes – electoral and non-electoral. This takes into account four important aspects of citizen participation: civil society organizations, mechanisms of direct democracy and participation and representation through local and regional governments. The Deliberative Component Index (DCI) captures to what extent the deliberative principle of democracy is achieved. It assesses the process by which decisions are reached in a polity. A deliberative process is one in which public reasoning focused on the common good motivates political decisions, as contrasted with emotional appeals, solidarity attachments, parochial interests or coercion. There should also be respectful dialogue at all levels – from preference formation to final decision – among informed and competent participants who are open to persuasion.
What the content of the 5 indices above suggests is that democratic politics is founded on the capacity to compromise and the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary. For near on two decades, Guyana has not had a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary or Chief Justice and there is not a single commentator that questions the claim that this condition severely undermines the independence of the judiciary, for so inclined, the executive could orchestrate the removal and or diminishment of the existing acting incumbents.
This condition has persisted because, as in many other areas – the quarrel about the formation of the Natural Resources Fund, the bloated electoral list, etc. – the political elites are unable to compromise on the office holders or an alternative method of appointment. When this is added to the fact that Guyana’s Westminster-type political arrangements hand control of the legislature to the executive even if it only has a one seat majority, two of the most important elements of a democratic society are absent. The V-DEM reports are kind to Guyana when it assesses that it is bordering on being an elected autocracy! Where the executive, unwilling or unable, to compromise control all three pillars of governance, what exists is a dictatorship.
The political system is broken and the PPP has brought matters to a new low by not speaking to the opposition and so exposing the systemic limits of the constitution. The problem is solvable but there are entrenched interests that can only be overcome by political action. The Opposition should note that it is not sensible to know that the judiciary is in an institutionally compromising situation and routinely wants it to solve its political problems. Similarly, going to local government elections with a flawed electoral list essentially to stymie the PPP’s dictatorial behaviour in one’s constituencies can only be one aspect of a general political strategy.