Power sharing

Stabroek News
January 12, 2000

There is a growing constituency for the concept of executive power sharing. It has officially been put on the table by Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, WPA presidential candidate and parliamentarian, as an alternative to elections next year January. He has suggested that instead of elections there be a power sharing government from 200l to 2003, what would have been the last two years of this government's five year term before they agreed to reduce it in the Herdmanston Accord.

Power sharing is supported in principle by several executive members of the PNC and in a recent interview on Channel 9 Mr Raphael Trotman, a contender for the PNC succession, did not rule it out. A few senior members of the PPP are at least open to discussion. And the idea has been pushed by several non-partisan commentators.

It is not that all those who advocate it are confident that it will work well. Indeed, some of them are aware of the possible dangers, discussed by theorists of consociational democracy, that power sharing may be prone to such as gridlock, the lack of a viable opposition, the strengthening rather than the weakening of ethnic blocs and so on. However, they feel that after over 40 years of ethnic voting and division Guyana has made little progress and it is worth trying something else, even if for a short period.

That is why Dr Roopnaraine's proposal fits in so well as it can be done without prejudice to normal party elections being held in 2003 and it would allow a period of cooling down and perhaps economic development.

Others have reached the conclusion that the Westminster model of democracy is not appropriate in a situation in which there are clearly established ethnic voting patterns. They argue that ethnically based elections are very divisive and tend towards instability. A great deal of the energy that should be spent on building the country is wasted on confrontation and beggar-my-neighbour politics. They point to the short term power sharing model in South Africa which marked the transition to universal adult suffrage and seemed to achieve its objective. They also note the current experiments in Northern Ireland and Fiji. They say forms of government are not immutable and must be adjusted to cater for local reality.

Power sharing, one feels, would be more viable and practical if the key players could agree in advance on the outlines of a social and economic programme. That would provide a structural basis for working together and hopefully reduce the possibility of squabbling and gridlock. The parties could well find the National Development Strategy, soon to be published, a suitable framework.

The leadership of the two main parties did not pursue the issue of power sharing in the Constitution Reform Commission though it was raised. One must assume, therefore, that there was no interest in it at that level or it was not considered feasible. But that does not mean the debate should be considered closed. It has repeatedly been raised in our letter columns and as noted Mr Trotman, who was on the trip to Northern Ireland sponsored by the National Democratic Institute, kept the door wide open on Channel 9.

Perhaps some of the younger persons in politics and in civil society should be heard on this matter on which the two main parties seem quite willing to proceed in the old rut, blithely unaware of the possible consequences.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples