The need for bicameralism in a modern liberal democracy

By K. Ramjattan
Guyana Chronicle
July 6, 1999


THE democratic form of government where elections are held periodically, where there is one man one vote, can result in the creation of "elective dictatorships". Elective dictatorships can become oppressive, arbitrary and corrupt; they usually create permanent minorities, which then perceive themselves excluded in most, if not all, spheres of political and economic activity.

To ensure that this perception of exclusion is made minimal, if not negligible, necessitates the creation of institutions and constitutional structures which will include these minorities in meaningful ways.

One must never over-emphasise the need to allow participation by minorities in the discussion, deliberation and decision-making aspects of any issue. This allowance to the minorities creates civility and stability in a democracy and endures to the long term benefit of a society and its people.

Guyana today suffers from this reality, that is, the perception that the minorities are marginalised. The minorities truly feel this way. They will even give instances and examples where they have been shut out and are disallowed a voice. Our lack of economic resources aggravates this feeling of alienation on the part of the minorities. It has created discontent and disenchantment to the extent that active confrontation with the State is generally the accepted method of dealing with issues.

The general secrecy of government, even in a democracy as transparent as Guyana's since 1992, further exacerbates the perceptions of marginalisation of these minorities. Persons who are not in the corridors of power tend to formulate unenlightened, speculatory and sometimes outright outlandish theses and conclusions about how the State's affairs are being run.

In this context there is paramount need for our democracy to be creatively and imaginatively more inclusive and expansive. These minorities must be given space through which they can appreciate that their voices will be heard, and considered. Further, being allowed this space will create the feeling of being empowered. This obliges a duty to perform responsibly as, in a sense, they are made stakeholders.

One such institution or constitutional structure which Guyana can do well with in the context of this crisis-ridden political landscape is an Upper House or Senate or Second Chamber. There will be immediate and long-term benefits of a far reaching nature from which we all will be beneficiaries.

The more immediate ones will be the commencement of a culture of inclusionary politics, and a meaningful act on the part of the PPP/Civic to allay fears of it not being a "winner take all" party.

But the long term benefits is what makes this project all the more attractive. This, most important of all, means that minorities of all sorts, not necessarily the political minorities, can have representation in such a way as never before. Of course this would depend on what is proposed to be the composition of this Upper House. In my view, it should comprise the ten Regional representatives being voted in through a system of first-past-the-post elections from within their respective regions; and 15 members appointed by the President (after consultation with the Opposition Leader). Or better still, eight appointed by the President, and seven by the Opposition Leader. These appointees should be recognised leaders from organisations representing labour, business, professionals, the various religions, women, farmers, human rights associations, indigenous organisations, and so on.

This composition reflects a wide sweep of participation from a larger set of interest groups whose voices will be more reflective of the diversity of our nation; a diversity which must be catered for legislatively. It will help the creation of representation from different constituencies - geographic and special interests - and will be an attempt to keep as many political actors within the scope of formal politics as possible.

Of course, this new structure must mean the relinquishing of some amount of power by the present holders. And power is not easily given up. But what is the good of holding on to power in circumstances of apparent permanent strife, when with a proportionate displacement of some of this power to other Guyanese with geographic or special-interest constituencies there may very well be a correspondingly commensurate permanent peace?


A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples