PPP/Civic against separate states in Guyana -
rejects calls to change electoral system

Guyana Chronicle
April 18, 1999

THE PPP/Civic has repeated its stand against creating a federal system of Government in Guyana, saying it does not agree that this will enhance ethnic security and co-operation.

The governing alliance's stand was reiterated Friday night in its presentation to the Constitution Reform Commission.

General Secretary, Mr. Donald Ramotar, told the commission that Guyanese generally live in peace and harmony and in numerous mixed communities across the country.

"The strength of our unity and the degree to which our people are determined that it should be maintained were demonstrated by their refusal to heed the recent calls for war in January and June last year", he argued.

"It is only in Georgetown that criminal elements, who had to be organised and paid, responded to the appeals for destabilisation by assaulting and robbing innocent Guyanese of perceived East Indian origin.

"We believe that the creation of separate states in Guyana, which will have to be given the right of secession, would be a retrograde step", he said.

Ramotar contended that this "can lead to the break up of Guyana and weaken our capacity to deal with our border problems."

He said strengthening the regional and Local Government systems offered greater possibilities for developing the collaborative efforts of the various communities and called on all interested parties to discuss and devise measures to increase the capacity of these bodies to deliver services to the communities they serve.

The devolution of powers from the regions to the National Democratic Councils should be at the top of the agenda, he advocated.

The PPP/Civic said it supported the principle of majoritarianism but rejected the concept of majority diktat.

Ramotar said the alliance recognised calls for a return to the Westminster system and understood the sentiments which have motivated them.

"However, it is the Westminster system which facilitated the establishment of a dictatorship in Guyana, whereby the party obtaining the largest number of votes, but a minority in Parliament, was, at first, not invited to form the government, then subjected to electoral robbery and suppression. What guarantees exist that this will not happen again?", he argued.

He said that under the existing system such a party will win the presidency and it will protect any such party in the future.

"Such protection is vitally necessary in view of our past and the obvious attempts to return us to that era", he stressed.

Ramotar said that the PPP/Civic, in one of its earliest reforms to the Parliamentary system during its last government, effected an amendment to the Standing Orders with the co-operation of the Opposition, to establish Standing Committees.

The purpose of these committees was to enhance transparency and accountability in governance and to provide a greater role within the Parliamentary system for the Opposition, he said.

No such committee has been established despite efforts by the last Government and all the deficiencies in governance complained about can be addressed by these committees, he told the commission.

According to Ramotar, this reform envisaged the opposition playing a larger than usual role in the governance of the country.

He said complaints about bad governance, victimisation and corruption have a hollow ring when mechanisms exist to deal with these matters, "mechanisms which are shunned because of partisan political considerations and the refusal to accept the democratic will of the electorate."

He said the PPP/Civic recommended that consideration be given to the elevation of these mechanisms to constitutional principles.

The parliamentary, regional and Local Government systems have "vast opportunities" for using the committee system, which is already in existence and in operation, he said.

This can ensure a high level of co-operation in governance, "which is already occurring in many instances at the local level; strengthening good governance; enhancing opposition participation in the decision-making process and protecting the interests of all minorities."

He said the PPP/Civic would not object to these principles obtaining constitutional protection.

Ramotar noted this would allow the views of the majority party in all these institutions to be subject to scrutiny and "a constitutionally protected basis will facilitate a bipartisan approach to and a collaborative effort in relation to governance."

"It is only under these circumstances that the political system and political culture in Guyana will grow."

The PPP/Civic also supports a two-term presidency, he announced.

"We believe that the limitation of the President to two consecutive terms accords with modern trends and will prevent the return to dictatorial tendencies to retain political power", Ramotar told the commission.

The alliance has withdrawn a proposal to revise the boundaries of the regions and to eliminate representatives from the regions, to help consensus in constitutional reform, he said.

"However, in view of our proposal for the abolition of the National Council of Local Democratic Organs, which nominates two members of Parliament, Parliament will now consist of 63 members, 53 elected in accordance with Proportional Representation and 10 regional representatives", he said.

Ramotar said the PPP/Civic had "grave suspicions" about proposals to change the electoral system.

Explaining this stand, he noted the electoral system was changed in 1964 "because it was seen as the only way by which the PPP, which had won three successive elections by the First Past the Post system, could be defeated."

"Now that the PPP/Civic has won two successive elections by Proportional Representation, calls are once again being heard for a change in the electoral system. While we believe that many proposals are being made because of genuine concerns, we also believe that there lurks behind many of these schemes the objective of once again loading the dice against the PPP/Civic."

"We absolutely reject these calls. If the concern is to generate more accountability of parliamentarians, we have no objection to a return to the First Past the Post system with constituencies, which are fairly demarcated", he said.

Ramotar reiterated the alliance's backing for provisions in the Constitution to establish a Race Relations Commission and/or an Equal Opportunity Commission, the functions of which will be to address complaints of discrimination and victimisation; to recommend laws and policies to eliminate discrimination and improve equal opportunities and access to resources for minorities including the disabled; and such other activities as are appropriate.

It also supports greater constitutional protection for indigenous peoples, he said.

It was of "utmost concern to us that indigenous peoples be given wider constitutional protection for the preservation of their rights, their culture and their way of life in a united Guyana", he said.

Ramotar said a new Constitution will be a mere piece of paper and will neither help to develop a new political culture nor protect the Guyanese people, just as the 1966 Constitution failed to do, "unless we all agree to be bound by the principles and conventions of constitutional supremacy and the rule of law and unless a closure is brought to our undemocratic past in such a way as to lead to a high degree of confidence that it will not return."

Ramotar's presentation was in addition to a written submission on constitutional reform he tabled with the commission.

Among the proposals are amending Article 1 so that Guyana will no longer be known as the Cooperative Republic of Guyana but simply the Republic of Guyana, "an indivisible, secular, democratic, sovereign state".

This is based on the argument that "it has always been incorrect to characterise Guyana's social and economic stage as one of transition from capitalism to socialism" as is presently the case, and that referring to the country as a cooperative republic "was a derisory attempt" at fostering the concept of "cooperative socialism" which never sat well with the populace anyhow.

Another proposal is that the composition of the National Assembly be reduced by two to 63 members, in view of another proposal to abolish the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs given that it serves no useful purpose.

It has been proposed that the National Assembly should consist only of the 53 members elected in accordance with the system of Proportional Representation (PR), and a member each from the ten administrative regions.

It has also been proposed that the President be stripped of his/her powers to dissolve Parliament in the event of being investigated for violating the Constitution or gross misconduct.